Though vastly improved during the 1990s by grants of I£6 billion in European structural funds, the Republic of Ireland's infrastructure is still struggling to cope with the country's unprecedented economic growth. Long traffic delays and below average roads linking major business centers around the country are a potential threat to continued expansion. A late 1990s report commissioned by the Irish Business and Employers Association (IBEC) estimated that a further I£14 billion would have to be spent to raise the quality of the country's infrastructure to generally accepted European levels. Ireland's share of European structural funds for 2000 to 2006 has decreased to approximately I£3 billion, but increased government spending and planned joint public-private funding of projects should make up the shortfall.
Ireland has the most car-dependent transportation system in the EU, with roads carrying 86 percent of freight traffic and 97 percent of passenger traffic. Yet full inter-city motorways are not in place, making the links between Dublin and other major cities subject to heavy traffic and delays. Economic growth and increased consumer spending has pushed up car ownership levels dramatically, which, together with increased commercial traffic on the roads, has offset the considerable improvements of the 1990s. The road network is estimated to total 87,043 kilometers (54,089 miles) of paved roads and 5,457 kilometers (3,391 miles) of unpaved roads (1999).
Long rush hours and traffic gridlock occur in the major cities and gridlock in Dublin is estimated to cost the national economy around I£1.2 billion every year. Policies aiming to attract more daily users to the public transport system might take effect over the next decade. Following much debate and deliberation, the current government has commenced the implementation of a light rail system (3 lines) to cover some important routes into the capital, most importantly a link to the airport. This will add to the "Dart," Dublin's existing, relatively efficient suburban rail service, which consists of 5 lines covering 257 kilometers (160 miles) and 56 stations.
The railway linking Dublin to 2 major cities on the island, Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Cork, has been vastly improved over the last few years, but recent reports by external consultants have highlighted the poor, even dangerous, state of much of the rest of Ireland's 1,947-kilometer (1,210-mile) railway infrastructure.
Ireland has 3 international airports—at Dublin (east), Shannon (southwest), and Cork (south)—and 6 independent regional airports. Air traffic increased dramatically during the 1990s, with the number of passengers up from 6.8 million (1992) to 12.1 million (1997), while annual air freight traffic also doubled. Inevitably, these increases have led to congestion, especially at Dublin's airport, and a major capital investment program launched by the government is nearing completion, with similar projects to follow in Cork and Shannon. Cargo traffic is similar, with increases of up to 50 percent in cargo tonnage and passenger traffic passing through the main ports over the 1990s. The government recognizes that capacity must increase if major congestion is to be avoided.
Liberalization in the telecommunications sector, completed in 1998, increased the number of providers from just 1 state-owned company to 29 fully licensed telecommunications companies, operating in residential,
|Country||Newspapers||Radios||TV Sets a||Cable subscribers a||Mobile Phones a||Fax Machines a||Personal Computers a||Internet Hosts b||Internet Users b|
|a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.|
|b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( http://www.isc.org ) and are per 10,000 people.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
corporate, and specialized data services sectors. The government hopes that liberalization and the resulting competition in the market will encourage private investment and improve the state's poorly developed telecommunications infrastructure. The mobile phone market has been dominated by competition between Eircell and Esat Digi-phone. Both have now been bought by the British giants, Vodaphone and British Telecom (BT), respectively, while a third mobile phone company, Meteor, has recently entered the market.
Energy consumption is, not surprisingly, on the increase. Total energy consumption rose from 8.5 million metric tons (9.35 million tons) in 1996 to 9.5 million metric tons (10.45 million tons) in 1997, with household use accounting for 3.6 million metric tons (3.6 million tons). Two-thirds of energy is supplied by imported coal and oil, with the remaining third supplied by indigenous peat (12 percent of the total) and natural gas. The distribution of gas, oil, peat, and electricity remains state dominated, though industrial users hope that recent liberalization of the gas and electricity markets will result in a lowering of prices.