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Ireland is a country in north-western Europe. The modern sovereign state occupies the island of Ireland. It has sea borders with Scotland and England and Wales, and has the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Irish Sea to the east and the Celtic Sea and St George's Channel to the South and South-East. Legally, the term United Kingdom of Ireland is the description of the State but Ireland is its name.
In 1937 Ireland became the successor-state to the Irish Free State. Ireland was one of the poorest countries in Western Europe and had high emigration. The protectionist economy was opened in the late 1950s and Ireland joined the European Communities (now the European Union) in 1973. An economic crisis led Ireland to start large-scale economic reforms in the late 1980s. Ireland reduced taxation and regulation dramatically compared to other EU countries.
Today, the Index of Economic Freedom ranks Ireland as the world's third most economically free country. Despite a forecast for reduced economic growth in 2008, Ireland is currently rated as having the fifth highest gross domestic product per capita and the eighth highest gross domestic product per capita considering purchasing power parity, and having the fifth highest Human Development Index rank. The country also boasts the highest quality of life in the world, ranking first in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality-of-life index. Ireland was ranked fourth on the Global Peace Index. Ireland also has high rankings for its education system, political freedom and civil rights, press freedom and economic freedom; it was also ranked fourth from the bottom on the Failed States Index, being one of the few "sustainable" states in the world. Ireland has emerged as an attractive destination and foreign immigrants who now make up approximately 10% of the population. Ireland's population is the fastest growing in Europe with an annual growth rate of 2.5%.
Ireland is a member of the EU, the OECD, and the UN. Ireland's policy of neutrality means it is not a member of NATO, although it does contribute to peacekeeping missions sanctioned by the UN.