Ireland - Overview:
Northern Ireland covers an area of about 14,000 square kilometres
in the north eastern part of the island of Ireland. It is comprised
of the six counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry
and Tyrone and, according to the 2001 census, has a population of
just under 1.7 million people. The capital, Belfast, is the largest
city in the region, with other principle urban areas being Bangor
Since its creation under the Government of Ireland Act in 1920,
Northern Ireland has seen a great deal of political and social unrest
between the Protestant-Unionist majority, who wish for Northern
Ireland to remain part of the UK, and the Roman Catholic-Nationalist
minority, who want the region to become part of a united Ireland.
These differences have resulted in terrorist acts being carried
out by paramilitary groups on both sides during the last few decades.
However, in recent years there have been significant developments
towards a peaceful solution in the region.
In July 1997, the nationalist paramilitary group, the IRA called
a cease-fire in order for their political wing, Sinn Fein, to be
allowed to participate in all party talks. In April 1998 the Good
Friday Agreement, which made provision for a power sharing executive
to be established in the region, was signed by the majority of political
parties in Northern Ireland and then ratified in a referendum held
in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The new Northern
Ireland Assembly was then established following elections held at
the end of June 1998. However, in October 2002 the assembly was
suspended for the fourth time since its creation and responsibility
for governing the region returned to Westminster.
Despite this latest set back, political and social stability in
Northern Ireland is greatly improved and this has resulted in considerable
benefits for the region's economy. For example, according to the
Quarterly Economic Report for March 2001, published by Northern
Ireland's Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI),
house prices in the region have increased by 82 per cent since 1995.
Furthermore, investment in the region's production industries increased
by a remarkable 91 per cent between the third quarter of 1995 and
the third quarter of 2000, compared to an increase of just 18.5
per cent for the UK. Such investment has also occurred in other
sectors, with companies such as Abbey National, Fujitsu, Halifax
PLC, Liberty Mutual, National Australia Bank and Nortel Networks
setting up and developing operations in the region. Some of the
primary advantages of choosing Northern Ireland as a business location,
that have been identified by the companies operating there, include
the region's excellent transport infrastructure and skilled workforce.
According to the region's development agency, throughout the 1990s
Northern Ireland had the fastest-growing regional economy in the
UK, with GDP increasing 1 per cent per annum faster than the rest
of the country. Unemployment has been falling steadily and in the
Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey for 2000, stood at 5.8 per
cent of the workforce, which is 5th lowest out of the UK regions
and some 2.5 per cent below the unemployment rate for the European
Figures from the DETI show that the regions manufacturing industry
is very healthy, with manufacturing output increasing by just under
48 per cent between 1990 and 2000 compared to an increase of just
under 9 per cent for the whole of the UK. In recent years, there
has been a shift in the manufacturing sector away from the more
traditional industries of textiles and engineering to ones focusing
on high technology manufacturing.
As with any modern economy, the service sector is vital to Northern
Ireland's development and is enjoying excellent growth. In particular,
the region has a booming tourist industry with record levels of
visitors and tourist revenues and has also established itself as
an significant location for call centres. A variety of companies
from all over the world have set up call centre operations in the
region in recent years including Abbey National, BT, Halifax, NTL,
Regus and Stream International. The 2001 report, published by communications
centre market research group Mitial, concluded Belfast was the best
overall location in which to establish a call centre due to its
cost effective and available labour resource, the availability of
property, good local communications and its established call centre
The region's Life and Health Sciences industry is also expanding
and, according to the regional development agency, has approximately
50 companies employing nearly 4,000 people. Some of the most prominent
of the companies present in the region and operating in this sector
include ABC Laboratories Inc, Bio Kinetic Europe Ltd, Galen Holdings
plc, Meridian Medical Technologies Ltd, MDS Pharma Ltd, Perfecseal
Ltd, Randox and Amtec Medical, TFX Medical and Tyco Healthcare.
Northern Ireland has a good transport infrastructure and the road
network ensures all parts of the region are less than an hour away
from an airport or seaport.
The region's main airport is Belfast International Airport. It
handles approximately 4 million passengers a year and is the 5th
largest regional air cargo centre in the UK with extensive warehouse
and distribution facilities. The airport is home to 6 airlines offering
scheduled services to many destinations and there are numerous onward
destinations available through Amsterdam, Birmingham and London.
Belfast City Airport caters for over 1.3 million passengers a year
and offers flights to several destinations throughout the UK. It
recently opened a new £21 million terminal to cope with increasing
passenger numbers. The region's third airport, the City of Derry
Airport, is situated seven miles Northeast of Londonderry and hosts
flights to and from Dublin and cities throughout the UK.
The region has several ports located at Belfast, Coleraine, Carlingford,
Londonderry and Warrenpoint that together offer excellent facilities
for all kinds of cargo. The Port of Belfast is the largest of these,
handling more than 60 per cent of Northern Ireland's sea-borne trade.
According to the Northern Ireland Labour Force Survey for July -
September 2002, published by the DETI, there are 701,000 people
employed in Northern Ireland. Figures from the Office for National
Statistics and DETI show that the majority of employment is in the
service sector. In March 2001 some 485,000 people were employed
in this sector, an increase of just over 30 per cent on the 1990
level. Manufacturing employment has also grown since 1990 and accounted
for 103,000 jobs in March 2001.
The region benefits from an excellent academic record ensuring
the availability of a well educated and skilled workforce. Statistics
for 2000-2001 from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland
show that 92 per cent of the region's pupils achieved pass grades
in their final year of school compared with 90 per cent for the
UK as a whole. Of these 24.6 per cent received A grades compared
with 18.6 per cent in the UK. In addition, the University of Ulster
and Queen's University of Belfast offer excellent access to graduates.
According to the regional development authority approximately 3,500
students graduate with IT degrees each year along with 650 engineers
with experience in digital signal processing, microelectronic and
In general the region enjoys good industrial relations. Figures
from the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and
Employment show that, between 1996 and 2000, the average number
of working days lost per 1000 employees in Northern Ireland was
15, compared to 16 in Great Britain and 73 in the Republic of Ireland.
Operating costs in Northern Ireland are competitive when compared
with the rest of the UK and Europe. According to the regional development
agency, Invest Northern Ireland, wages and salaries in the manufacturing
sector are approximately 25 per cent lower than the European Union
Figures published by the London-based communications, media and
pricing consultancy, Tarifica, in July 2001, show that the cost
of a 3 minute peak rate phone call from Northern Ireland to several
countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and
the USA, is just $0.21. From the Republic of Ireland the cost is
$0.40 to the USA and $0.83 to the rest.