Document Type

Book Chapter


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


Political science

Publication Details

Irish business & society governing, participating & transforming in the 21st century.

Gill & Macmillan, Ch.13, Dublin 2010.


This chapter examines the dramatic changes in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ (ICTU) influence over public policy during the latter half of the twentieth century. The chapter focuses upon the impact economic crises have had on the ICTU’s role in policy-making. The chapter concentrates, in particular, upon four periods, the late 1950s, 1970, the early 1980s and 1987, when the ICTU found its influence over public policy radically transformed. By the late 1950s the trade union movement was invited into the policy-making process by a government desperate to revive a sclerotic economy. During the following decade the ICTU played an integral part in the development of economic and social programmes. In 1970, due to concerns over inflation and the increasing level of industrial disputes, the ICTU, initially under government pressure, became a party to centralised bargaining. The National Wage Agreements that the ICTU was a party to during that decade were marked by their integration with government budgetary policy. With active state involvement in industrial relations came ICTU involvement in policy-making. However, by the early 1980s the Irish economy was in serious difficulties again. This, combined with trade union and employer disillusionment that the centralised agreements were not achieving their respective objectives of full employment and low inflation and a new collation government determined to remove the unions from the corridors of power, led to the collapse of the national agreements and ICTU finding itself shut out of the policy-making process. The years afterwards saw the economy continue to stagnate and the ICTU marginalised as a policy-making influence. By 1987, with Ireland teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, a new Fianna Fáil government came to power seeking to promote a three year national pay agreement with the unions and employers, in the hopes of reviving the economy. The ICTU, weakened through marginalisation and membership losses, favoured a return to centralised pay agreements. However, these agreements ultimately came to encompass a wide range of economic/social policy commitments that went far beyond the agreements of the 1970s.