Tourism / Transport
The Irish economy has transformed since the 1980s from being predominantly agricultural to a modern knowledge economy focused on high technology industries and services. Ireland adopted the euro currency in 2002 along with eleven other EU member states. The country is heavily reliant on Foreign Direct Investment and has attracted several multinational corporations due to a highly educated workforce and a low corporation tax rate.
Companies such as Intel invested in Ireland during the late 1980s, later followed by Microsoft and Google. Ireland is ranked as the ninth most economically free economy in the world, according to the Index of Economic Freedom. In terms of GDP per capita, Ireland is one of the wealthiest countries in the OECD and EU. However, the country ranks below the OECD average in terms of GNP per capita. GDP is significantly greater than GNP due to the large number of multinational corporations based in Ireland.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the country experienced unprecedented economic growth fuelled by a dramatic rise in consumer spending, construction and investment, which became known as the Celtic Tiger period. The pace of growth slowed during 2007 and led to the burst of a major property bubble which had developed over time. The dramatic fall in property prices highlighted the over-exposure of the economy to construction and contributed to the Irish banking crisis. Ireland officially entered a recession in 2008 following consecutive months of economic contraction. GNP contracted by 11.3% in 2009 alone, the largest annual decline in GNP since 1950.
The country officially exited recession in 2010, assisted by a strong growth in exports. However, due to a significant rise in the cost of public borrowing due to government guarantees of private banking debt, the Irish government accepted an €85 billion programme of assistance from the EU, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and bilateral loans from the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark. Following three years of contraction, the economy grew by 0.7% in 2011 and 0.9% in 2012. The unemployment rate was 14.7% in 2012, including 18.5% among recent immigrants. In March 2016 the unemployment rate was reported by the Central Statistics Office (Ireland) to be 8.6%, down from a peak unemployment rate of 15.1% in February 2012. In addition to unemployment, net emigration from Ireland between 2008 and 2013 totalled 120,100, or some 2.6% of the total population according to the Census of Ireland 2011. One-third of the emigrants were aged between 15 and 24.
In 2013, Ireland was named the "best country for business" by Forbes. Ireland exited its EU-IMF bailout programme on 15 December 2013. Having implemented budget cuts, reforms and sold assets, Ireland was again able to access debt markets. Since then, Ireland has been able to sell long term bonds at record rates.
Although multinational corporations dominate Ireland's export sector, exports from other sources also contribute significantly to the national income. The activities of multinational companies based in Ireland have made it one of the largest exporters of pharmaceutical agents, medical devices and software-related goods and services in the world. Ireland's exports also relate to the activities of large Irish companies (such as Ryanair, Kerry Group and Smurfit Kappa Group) and exports of mineral resources: Ireland is the seventh largest producer of zinc concentrates, and the twelfth largest producer of lead concentrates. The country also has significant deposits of gypsum, limestone, and smaller quantities of copper, silver, gold, barite, and dolomite. Tourism in Ireland contributes about 4% of GDP and is a significant source of employment.
Other goods exports include agri-food, cattle, beef, dairy products, and aluminum. Ireland's major imports include data processing equipment, chemicals, petroleum and petroleum products, textiles, and clothing. Financial services provided by multinational corporations based at the Irish Financial Services Centre also contribute to Irish exports. The difference between exports (€89.4 billion) and imports (€45.5 billion) resulted an annual trade surplus of €43.9 billion in 2010, which is the highest trade surplus relative to GDP achieved by any EU member state.
The EU is by far the country's largest trading partner, accounting for 57.9% of exports and 60.7% of imports. The United Kingdom is the most important trading partner within the EU, accounting for 15.4% of exports and 32.1% of imports. Outside the EU, the United States accounted for 23.2% of exports and 14.1% of imports in 2010.
ESB, Ervia and Airtricity are the three main electricity and gas suppliers in Ireland. There are 19.82 billion cubic metres of proven reserves of gas. Natural gas extraction previously occurred at the Kinsale Head until its exhaustion. The Corrib gas field was due to come on stream in 2013/14. In 2012, the Barryroe field was confirmed to have up to 1.6 billion barrels of oil in reserve, with between 160 and 600 million recoverable. That could provide for Ireland's entire energy needs for up to 13 years, when it is developed in 2015/16. There have been significant efforts to increase the use of renewable and sustainable forms of energy in Ireland, particularly in wind power, with 3,000 MegaWatts of wind farms being constructed, some for the purpose of export. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has estimated that 6.5% of Ireland's 2011 energy requirements were produced by renewable sources. The SEAI has also reported an increase in energy efficiency in Ireland with a 28% reduction in carbon emissions per house from 2005 to 2013.
The country's three main international airports at Dublin, Shannon and Cork serve many European and intercontinental routes with scheduled and chartered flights. The London and Dublin route is the second busiest international air route in Europe, with 3.6 million people flying between the two cities in 2013 down from the 4.4 million who flew in 2003. Aer Lingus is the flag carrier of Ireland, although Ryanair is the country's largest airline. Ryanair is Europe's largest low-cost carrier, the second largest in terms of passenger numbers, and the world's largest in terms of international passenger numbers.
Railway services are provided by Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail), which operates all internal intercity, commuter and freight railway services in the country. Dublin is the centre of the network with two main stations, Heuston station and Connolly station, linking to the country's cities and main towns. The Enterprise service, which runs jointly with Northern Ireland Railways, connects Dublin and Belfast. The whole of Ireland's mainline network operates on track with a gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm), which is unique in Europe and has resulted in distinct rolling stock designs. Dublin has a steadily improving public transport network including the DART, Luas, Dublin Bus, and dublinbikes.
Motorways, national primary roads and national secondary roads are managed by the National Roads Authority, while regional roads and local roads are managed by the local authorities in each of their respective areas. The road network is primarily focused on the capital, but motorways have been extended to other cities as part of the Transport 21 capital investment programme, as a result motorways have been completed between Dublin and a number of other major Irish cities including Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway.
Dublin has been the focus of major projects such as the East-Link and West-Link toll-bridges, as well as the Dublin Port Tunnel. The Jack Lynch Tunnel, under the River Lee in Cork, and the Limerick Tunnel, under the River Shannon, were two major projects outside Dublin. Several by-pass projects are underway in other urban areas.