I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Beyond the Failure Narrative

Beyond the Failure Narrative

Philip O’Connor
Ireland, Small Open Economies and European Integration. Lost in Transition, by David Begg, Palgrave Macmillan, 238 pp, €68, ISBN: 978-1137559609 With the current fear of chaos surrounding public sector pay policy in Ireland and the flexing of trade union muscle, there has been much talk of a need to return to what Danny McCoy, director general of the employers’ body, IBEC, has called the “orderly framework” of a collective agreement, at least in the public sector. Some – though, according to McCoy, not IBEC – have rediscovered a sympathy for the system of social partnership that was a central feature of the historically greatest era of Irish growth and development which began in 1987. It is perhaps a sign of the times that even Fintan O’Toole, a regular critic of the system throughout its life, has recently been emphasising its positive features. Social partnership ended abruptly when the global financial crisis hit Ireland like a tsunami in 2009, when finance minister Brian Lenihan forced through a return to the hegemony of the Department of Finance over government policy. This was despite proposals from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) for a negotiated strategy to tackle the national economic emergency, backed up, as now seems to be forgotten, by a hundred-thousand-strong march by trade unionists through Dublin. As Brian Murphy and Mary O’Rourke revealed in their 2014 festschrift for Lenihan, In Calm and Crisis, taoiseach Brian Cowen argued in cabinet in favour of adopting the ICTU approach. Lenihan had his way. However, it appears that social partnership may very well soon be back on the agenda. Social partnership was of course far more than a system of pay regulation, and encompassed a vast area of national economic, social and developmental strategy. It was no less than a system of nationally negotiated economic development strategy and welfare state building. As Ireland emerges from its economic nightmare, and re-enters a period of developmental growth, progressive thinking is again looking to develop new institutional forms to replace the rather crude and purely economistic governance regime that arguably had become necessary to deal with the financial crisis. This context makes the appearance of David Begg’s book very timely indeed. Intensely, even passionately, argued, Begg’s work is not specifically about social partnership, but the policy context in which it operated. It is an in-depth examination of the historical performance of Ireland’s economic and policy-making institutions since the 1980s,…



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