Ireland has something else to celebrate on St Patrick's Day with the news that it has become the world's leading exporter of computer software.
The Emerald Isle exports more software than the US, with $3.29bn (£2.1bn) of software shipped in 1998, compared with US exports of $2.96bn, according to a report published this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-orporation and Development (OECD).
However, the figures must be seen in context rather than through Guinness-affected eyes. Some 88 per cent of the country's software exports are from foreign companies based in Ireland. There are more than 140 overseas software firms in the region.
For example, Microsoft's European distribution centre is in Ireland, which boosts Irish export figures rather than the US.
But there are good reasons why software companies such as Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Baltimore Technologies and Informix Software have set up shop in Ireland.
In 1997, the Irish government increased its technology investment fund by £250m. The fund was to be invested over three years on infrastructure and training - a figure since increased to £500m.
Maura Saddington, UK director of the Irish Industrial Development Agency (IDA), said: "We encourage companies to come to Ireland to set up in order to export products."
As part of an attractive incentive package, Ireland offers low taxes, a high level of IT skills and grants from the European Union (EU). "We have a maximum level of 10 per cent corporation tax, and the Irish government has spent a fortune on its education system. We work very closely with colleges to encourage them to expand their intake into high-tech courses," said Saddington.
"Grants from the EU are included as part of the total package offered to companies."
Irish citizen Rory Gray, a director of alliances for Bea Systems, said: "Over the last 15 years, IDA and the government have worked on developing the market. There is barely a town in Ireland that doesn't have some sort of IT education centre or technical college."
A knock-on effect is that "Ireland has become the software development house of Europe", he said.
"IT is not just about distribution and support services. We have found that our Irish partners are rapidly developing leading-edge technology. Ireland is playing a leading role in developing new software solutions."
Companies such as the former Digital (now Compaq), Ericsson and Nortel - which originally established manufacturing operations in Ireland - have evolved their businesses in Ireland into service activities and software development.
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