Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 4 September 2014
“Technical Memories (Part 87) – A Country Renewed”
It was a time of significant change and transformation, culturally and physically in 1950s and 1960s Cork. The last number of weeks has focussed on a number of ‘heavy’ industrial monuments in the region. Sites have been discussed to illuminate Cork’s role in the industrial expansion of Ireland – Whitegate Oil Refinery, Haulbowline Steel Holdings, Verolme Shipyard, ESB Stations, Gouldings Fertilisers, Cork Airport, Fords, Dunlops, developments on Tivoli’s docks, as well as the revamp of the city’s docks.
The Cork sites were encouraged in their development by government through their policy documents. However the Cork industries also bucked the trend moving ahead of the national development curve with great leadership behind them. Between 1945 and 1973, Ireland moved from being a largely agricultural to one increasingly complex global framework. Ireland could attract mobile capital from national companies. During his tenure as Taoiseach from 1959 to 1966, Sean Lemass of Fianna Fáil focussed on the provision of additional exports, the creation of new export markets and the generation of further employment. It was also recognised that to acquire expansions various social actors had to be brought together, particularly the trade unions, business interests and farmers’ groups into the economic policy-making process.
A book entitled The Lemass Era (2005) edited by Brian Given and Gary Murphy outlines that between 1951 and 1958, gross domestic product rose by less than one per cent per year. Employment fell by 12 per cent, and the unemployment rate rose. Industrial output expanded at 2.8 per cent yearly while output per farmer grew at a respectable 3.4 per cent due to economic policy reform. However by 1960 the average British worker still earned at least forty per cent more than his Irish counterpart. This low salary structure served as a strong incentive for Irish skilled workers to emigrate even when not threatened by unemployment. Despite industrial progress, Irish Domestic Product was still only 60 per cent of the Western European average. The process of post-war recovery was characterised by intensive industrialisation and the development of a strong export potential. Ireland was on the periphery in both an economic and political sense.
In 1958 T K Whitaker, secretary of the Department of Finance, penned a policy document, entitled Economic Development. Within its introduction, he commented on eliminating restrictive economic policies; “we can no longer rely for industrial development on extensive tariff and quota protection. Foreign industrialists will bring skills and techniques we need, and continuous and widespread publicity abroad is essential to attract them. If foreign industrial investment does not rapidly increase, a more radical removal of statutory restrictions on such investments should take place”. Whitaker outlined two ways to attract foreign corporations: remove restrictions and give incentives for foreign firms to establish bases in Ireland. He suggested that the Control of Manufactures Acts of 1932 and 1934 should be amended and a series of proposals intended to attract outside investors to Ireland should be activated.
Whitaker proposed that the IDA should expand its staff, particularly in North America, and should strengthen and advance its efforts to attract foreign capital. He further recommended that the available capital be increased for outright industrial grants, which would increase the country’s productive capacity and bring new techniques and methods. Ireland had to become more efficient so that its products could be sold on an increasing scale in export markets. A white paper was drafted from Whitaker’s report with a number of actions solidified. In time, Lemass changed the title of the new act from a “Repeal of the Control of Manufactures Act” to an “Act for the Encouragement of Export”.
The white paper by the government on Whitaker’s work was published in 1958. This document ushered in an era of official commitment to some form of economic planning. It played a key role in redirecting government thinking and in preparing the way for new economic policies of the 1960s. Lemass completed the process of putting in place a substantial industrial support structure, covering technology, exporting and support for firms such as the IDA. In the same year, Ireland made its first application for membership in the European Economic Community in 1961.
The first programme covered the years 1959 to 1963. In 1961 during the period of this programme, the volume of GNP rose by over four per cent a year, which was faster than any of the projections put forward in 1958. Not only did living standards rise by 50 per cent, by 1971, the population had risen by over 100,000. This is also reflected in the suburban expansion of cities across the country and the construction of new houses. In the Cork context, it led to the city’s first development plan in 1969 with a proposed spend of £30m on development and redevelopment and enormous foci on the provision of social housing, drainage and new road structures. Millions more were proposed to be spent on a new regional hospital and a new regional technical college (more on this next week).
If anyone has stories of attending the Crawford Tech in the 1960s, I would like to hear them. Unfortunately I lost some phone numbers, so I’d appreciate any info and photos on the Tech, 0876553389.
758a. Seán Lemass on Time magazine, 1963 (source: Cork City Library)