In mid-60s a hapless junior bureaucrat from the Industrial Development Authority was dispatched to the west of Ireland to find residents willing to give up their phone lines. A new, American company was setting up a factory nearby, and—as part of its side of the bargain—the Irish government had undertaken to set up the utilities in advance. But getting a new phone line to this region of Ireland was not straightforward, simple, or quick, and here the government had to rely on the goodwill of private citizens to enable them to provide the necessary infrastructure to enable a modern, globalized, corporation to run its operation. We can only imagine the response they received. In many ways this story embodies many of the contradictions of Irish social and economic change during the 1960 s. During this decade the country underwent a new drive to modernize, based primarily on the strategy of attracting foreign direct investment, but—in regions of country which had been subject to decades of underdevelopment—this process planned in resolute policy papers and upward line graphs could stall in the materials and things of these places: narrow roads, inadequate housing, and poor phone lines. These themes are at the centre of Mary Daly’s new monograph, Sixties Ireland: Reshaping the Economy, State, and Society 1957-73. This book tells the story of the Irish ‘long’ 60s, uniting considerable archival research with a synthesis of the growing scholarly literature on the period. As such, Daly provides the definitive history of the decade, as the country sought to return to a European economic mainstream it had broken with after 1945; what she terms Ireland’s ‘Sonderweg’ (p. 11). Working through the key themes of economic development, emigration, women’s lives and feminism, and finally on to political change and the upheavals caused by violence in Northern Ireland, she provides a detailed exploration of the decade which goes beyond any previous book in both its scope and detail. Perhaps Daly’s principle contribution is her nuanced and clear-sighted reading of Irish economic modernization in the period after the First Programme for Economic Expansion (1958). This period of reform, and Taoiseach Seán Lemass’s leadership, has taken on something of a totemic status within Irish public and political discourse, seen as the first, crucial step towards Ireland’s embrace of a European economic mainstream, the moment when the misery of ‘De Valera’s Ireland’ was broken by the ‘progress’ of ‘Lemass’s Ireland’. Daly’s combination of archival depth and analytic insight nuances both the former and the latter, showing how the ‘take off’ of the early 1960 s was much more limited than generally thought (both contemporaneously and since), with Ireland’s 1960 s ‘boom’ starting at a far lower base than its European neighbours, and maintaining lower growth figures than both central European powers and more useful comparators of Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Daly shows how regional growth policy of Irish industrialization embodied the contradictions of Ireland’s newfound modernity. Against the advice of planning experts such as Colin Buchanan to cluster the infrastructure necessary for development in a few regional development nodes, the jockeying of parliamentarians with unstable majorities and a cultural adherence to the value of rural life meant that even during this first phase of modernization new factories were dispersed across Ireland. This had a range of unforeseen outcomes. During the 1950 s, the failed effort to rejuvenate rural culture had led to the haemorrhaging of the people these policies were designed to protect to the building sites of Britain; however, during the 1960 s, this dispersed industrialization strategy actually served to shore up the social structure of rural Ireland, providing jobs to support the income of Ireland’s agricultural population. However, this policy also served to limit both productivity and economic growth. From this economic story, other changes of the period radiated. This included conflicts over women's role in a modernising society; first challenges to authority of the church; and a new effervescence to youth culture caused by declining emigration. All this also has implications for how we make sense of today’s Ireland. As was often pointed out to potential investors, Ireland never experienced a nineteenth-century industrial revolution based around heavy industry, and as such never experienced the shock changes of urbanization and the wholesale reformulation of relations between family and community witnessed in many European nations. Less frequently mentioned in the promotional literature was the fact that the country also never developed a European-model welfare state (based on the twin opposition of the churches and the professions working in tandem to ensure the continuance of their influence and income). Ireland’s reliance on FDI for economic growth meant that Dublin, in particular, never saw the replacement of jobs decimated by the removal of dock work, as foreign investors balked at locating in the deprived neighbourhoods and difficult brownfield sites of the inner city. This combination of disparate factors meant that, moving on a generation, Ireland, with its unique relationship between the individual and the state, was an ideal location for a more aggressive form of neo-liberalism than implemented in much of the rest of Europe. Indeed, it is in the form of the social and economic shifts of the 1960, both their successes and failures, that we witness contemporary Ireland emerging. This book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to make sense of the pivotal, transformational decade. Moreover, it also shines a light on just how much more there is to understand with regard to this period, and as such should provide a fruitful starting point for future research. © The Author . Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Twentieth Century British History – Oxford University Press
Published: Aug 9, 2017
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