The industrialisation of Ireland

8 August 2016

Ireland went through industrial transformation in the period of the 1960s and 1970s. This essay will argue that the changes were felt more and had a greater impact on rural Ireland. Using documentary evidence and primary sources of information this essay will show that these changes affected areas such as, economy, families, rural communities and in particular, women.

The government’s role in industrialisation will be acknowledged as having a positive and negative effect on rural society. This essay will also show that, along with the upwardly mobilisation of Ireland, new problems arose out of industrialisation that would require attention and legislation with regards to the new roles women would play in employment. Inequality and gender discrimination are two of these problems that this essay will show had negative effects due to industrialisation.

The industrialisation of Ireland Essay Example

The consequences for rural residents were also double sided, along with a prosperous new consumer society, lower unemployment and the need for emigration being reduced, came the importance of the farm and keeping the name on the land disappeared, with new industry came new social problems and people had to mobilise themselves to compete for employment, thus the countryside went through ecological change. The industrialisation of Ireland beginning in the period of the 1960s meant there would be a significant shift from the agrarian culture to the industrial era, and industry became the main factor in the working society.

Ireland prior to the 1960s was traditionally an agricultural nation but economic growth was stale, emigration levels were high and in the west of Ireland in particular, low unemployment led to poverty and depression. As will be stated later, change was needed and this new wave of industry which was a break away from the assembly line style of production known as Fordism, instead the concept of post-Fordism which is a more flexible and diverse style of production was upon Ireland.

Companies had to restructure their production styles to accommodate the consumer at home and abroad, by having flexible working practises, global locations and in time delivery services (Slater 1995). In Rural Ireland the effects these industries had on the local farming community would change the face of farming forever. The new roles women would take up in the family unit and the boost in revenue due to women now working outside of the farm was immense.

On the down side the functionality of the family also changed, but not in a good sense, as women were no longer the main influence on children’s lives. The dynamics of the family had to readjust to fit in line with industrialisation. With the onset of modern industrialisation, Ireland had to change from an import to an export led development state, in order to compete with its European neighbours or face being left behind. As the western world was changing, Ireland had to change with it.

In 1949 the founding of the Industrial Development Authority was central to the government’s plans for economic change in Ireland. The IDA along with the backing of the government had access to discretionary funds to use in the aggressive pursuit of direct foreign investment to Ireland. This meant setting up links with America and Europe but America would be the main area for the IDA to operate and attract large multi nationals companies to Ireland.

During the 1950s there was a period of transition when Ireland was changing both socially and economically and economic growth was slow until 1958, when, according to Pyle (1990) “the change was formalised by two 1958 government documents, Economic Development and the first Programme for Economic Expansion” (p. 18). Although progress was slow, it was not until 1973 when Ireland entered the EEC that significant change was seen, as companies that had invested and located in Ireland now had access to the rest of Western Europe and as a result, Ireland had one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

The changes that began to occur from 1960 onwards had both positive and negative effects in Ireland and both of these effects had more impact in rural communities rather than their counterparts in the bigger cities. The role of the government in the industrialisation of Ireland cannot be understated. One leading government figure at the time was civil servant and secretary of the Department of Finance Mr Ken Whittaker. He and his team were the first forward thinkers in terms of the change of policy that was needed for Ireland to progress as an export nation.

Some of the early changes that were made included, controls on foreign ownership of businesses were scrapped and a free trade agreement was signed with Britain (IDA 2003:10). These changes were so successful “that by 1975 the IDA had secured more than 450 foreign owned industrial projects” (IDA 2003:11). Significant financial measures were put in place by the government to attract businesses to Ireland such as, low tax on profits, export sales relief and the group relief scheme which allowed groups of companies to be taxed as a single entity (Brophy 1985:40).

There are several reasons why the first multi-national companies set up base in the west of Ireland and land price is probably the main one. Other reasons include the lack of trade unions, unskilled workers and education levels were considerably lower than that of the foreign investor, and these reasons may have been seen as a way of exploiting the poor and unemployed rural people of Western Ireland. During the two decades of industrial change in Ireland beginning in the 1960s, the consequences of industrialisation had a dramatic effect on why rural Ireland would change indefinitely.

It can be seen by today’s society that the tradition of keeping the name on the land for small holdings in rural Ireland was no longer of great importance, some of the reasons for this were, women took up roles in factories, men also left the farm for steady regular wages and better working conditions, the location of these factories impacted on the infrastructure of the community and in my view the church no longer had the biggest impact on people’s lives, instead the factory was now the central hub of the community.

Livelihoods in the surrounding areas of these multi nationals were no longer dependant on the farm as while most men stayed and worked the land, the women and surplus children that would have previously emigrated were working in the factory and bringing home the majority of the family income. Although Ireland was seen as a developing country the west of Ireland was behind the times with regards to personal entitlements, working conditions and rates of pay for rates of work, this is why it is argued that industrialisation affected rural more than the urban societies and why these companies set up in the west of Ireland.

Pyle (1990) states, “Multinational companies located in developing countries primarily because they are labour intensive industries seeking low wage workers” (p. 5). It can be argued that multi-national companies cornered the market when it comes to exploitation and discrimination in the workplace. It is common knowledge that before and during this time period that women were paid less than men and it was legally correct to do so.

Women were seen as desirable workers for a number of reasons, they could be paid less, the sense of liberation they got from employment meant they would be happy with any wage and because of their abilities in the domestic environment with regards to dexterity and co-ordination, they were considered semi-skilled. In my view foreign investors may have been led to consider that women were more used to mundane and menial tasks and would be more suitable than men for the conveyor belt style of manufacturing.

This essay stated earlier that government policy played a major role in industrialisation, but up until the late 1970s there were no policies for equality in the workplace. Women that worked in the service industry in particular were subject to many discriminatory laws such as, the marriage bar, which meant that females in employment had to resign when they became married (commission on the status of women, 1972:252). The marriage bar remained in place until the Employment Equality act 1977 (Pyle 1990:87).

Considering women in rural Ireland worked on farms and carried considerable weights including the weight of pregnancy, they were discriminated on the weightlifting provision which hindered the amount of women employed in sectors like textiles and clothing. Women were not allowed to carry more than 16kg and this weight would have been an expected weight to carry in these industries (Pyle 1990:89). Rural Ireland changed forever after the onset of industrialisation and the role of the woman changed along with it. There was a new society in the making and it was a society based on consumerism.

Liberated women in the west of Ireland now had access to a city style shopping environment. Women also had money in their pockets and did not have to go cap in hand to their husbands or fathers requesting money. Industrialisation had a snowball effect in the economy where it was responsible for new businesses in the surrounding areas. New identities were formed among both genders in rural Ireland and these changes created new classes of people. For the first time women had a standing in the community and this was because they had a new role to perform outside of the farm. Rural Ireland was modernising.

“These different changes in society and the introduction of married and single women into the paid workforce are a key indicator of the modernisation of Ireland” Conway et al. (2012:133). Quinn (2000) is in agreement with this essay, in her Thesis on farm wives in rural Ireland, she states, “farmer’s wives are no longer confined to the farm as housewives and carry out women’s work instead new avenues of opportunity have been opened due to rural industrialisation” (52).

Another significant shift in consumerism came with regards to transport, the need for both public and private transport led to workers becoming dependant on motorised forms of transport. This did not only affect rural Ireland in a positive way, with more employment being created in the transport industry, as a consequence the countryside and small towns and villages became flooded with industrial and private traffic and this brought pollution and devastation to the eco systems in these rural areas.

This essay has discussed how industrialisation changed Ireland and in particular how it changed the most in rural Ireland. In order to discover the implications of these changes this essay has given a history on the beginning of industrialisation in the 1960s and how it affected the farming community and how it changed the dynamics of the family unit. Arguments could not be made without explaining the government’s role in industrialisation and the process and departments involved in coming up with the strategy to attract multinational companies to Ireland.

The change in Ireland’s economy was to be a radical one and this essay described what developments were made and bodies set up to enable economic expansion. I have stated that the Industrial Development Authority were central to the government’s plans to overhaul the country’s economy. My views on the consequences that these factories had on rural Ireland are shown in this essay, when it is stated that the tradition of keeping the name on the land became almost extinct and how the factory became central to a towns environment.

Out of industrialisation came other negative issues that would affect women more so than men and this essay explained the impact that inequality had on these women. The final point this essay makes is how a new society of consumerism was born out of industrialisation and the new roles that women would take on affected the community, the family and the farm.

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