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BU4630 Economic Policy and Business History

(15 ECTS credits)

(Please note: this course is not open to one-semester students entering in the 2nd semester)

Module Content/Outline:

This is a research-based course that will be of interest to students of history, politics and economics as well as business. It explores the impact of economic policy and changes in the legal, political, national and global economic environments on individual firms and industrial sectors, and analyses how firms strategise to maximise the benefits or minimise the costs of these changes. The primary focus is on Ireland.

The types of questions to be addressed include the following. (i) The earliest substantial foreign MNC in Ireland was the Ford Motor Company, which operated a large manufacturing plant in Cork City from 1919 to 1984. In the 1920s Ford lobbied strongly against trade protectionism; in the 1970s it lobbied strongly in the opposite direction. What accounts for this change of stance, and why did the factory close when it did? (ii) British chocolate maker Rowntree set up a factory in Ireland in 1926; Cadburys followed in 1932. Rowntree largely ceased its Irish operations in 1986, while Cadburys remained and now produces in Ireland most of the ‘Cadburys Flakes’ consumed across the world. Equivalently in shoes: the second largest British footwear producer ceased Irish operations in 1967, while the largest, Clarks Shoes, survived for another two decades. What accounts for the different histories and strategies of Cadburys and Clarks relative to Rowntrees and Rawsons? (iii) Who were the biggest manufacturing employers in Ireland in 1920, in 1960, in 1972? Who were the biggest manufacturing exporters? (iv) How do we find the best estimate of the increase in manufacturing employment under protectionism? (v) Why were British and German firms the first to come to Ireland in response to low corporation tax, and why are American firms so dominant today? (vi) How do MNCs such as Apple, Google and Microsoft exploit the loopholes that exist between the tax laws of the US, the Netherlands, Ireland and Caribbean ‘tax havens’ such as the Cayman Islands, and why do these loopholes exist?

There is as yet no firm-level history of the Irish economy, and we do not yet know the answers to some of the questions raised above. The research you undertake in this course will address these types of questions and will bring further equivalently important questions to the surface.


Professor Frank Barry

Learning Objectives:

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:
  • Identify the key aspects of economic policy that impact on the evolution of firms and industrial sectors
  • Analyse how different economic policies impact on the evolution of firms and industrial sectors
  • Analyse how different firms strategise to maximise the benefits or minimise the costs of changes in economic policy and in the legal, political, national and global economic environments

Lectures &Tutorials/Contact hours:

There will be two lectures per week in the first semester to provide students with a broad overview of the firm-level industrial history of Ireland since independence in 1922 and to assist them  in deciding on their research topics and in unearthing relevant source material.  (These may be complemented by occasional tutorials).  Students will undertake and complete their research projects during the second semester.  There are no lectures during the second semester.  During this semester there will be two tutorials a week at which students will present their ongoing research.

Recommended Texts/Key Reading:

As mentioned, there is as yet no firm-level history of the Irish economy. Some useful material is contained in:

  • Brophy, S. A. (1985) The Strategic Management of Irish Enterprise, 1934-84: Case ~Studies of Leading Irish Companies, Dublin: Richview Browne and Nolan.

There is one firm-level history of a particular manufacturing sector – footwear – which provides a model of the type of research project that students might choose: Press, J. (1989) The Footwear Industry in Ireland, 1922-73,  Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

  • Useful material that looks at the rationalisation of individual industrial sectors as trade liberalisation proceeded is contained in: Smith, L., and G. Quinn (1975)  A Study of the Evolution of Concentration in the Irish Food Industry: 1968-1973, Commission of the European Communities, DG Competition.
  • Restrictive Practices Commission (undated) Report of Studies on Industrial Concentration and Mergers in Ireland.

Alternatively, students may choose (subject to the agreement of the lecturer) to focus on the history in Ireland of an individual firm.  Examples of such histories (the first two of which are not confined to Ireland) are:

  • Fitzgerald, Robert (1995) Rowntree and the Marketing Revolution, 1862-1969, Cambridge University Press.
  • Bradley, J. (2008) Cadbury’s Purple Reign, John Wiley & Sons
  • Dennison, S. R., and O. MacDonagh (1998) Guinness 1886-1939: from Incorporation to the Second World War.
  • Grimes, T. (2008) Starting Ireland on the Road to Industry: Henry Ford in Cork, PhD thesis, NUI Maynooth.


Students will undertake a major research project within the area covered by this course, the topic of which must be agreed with the lecturer in advance. (An example might be: ‘a firm-level study of the brewing industry in Ireland since Independence’). The project will be due by the end of the second semester and is worth 65 percent of the mark for the course.

A minor research project, also on a topic to be agreed in advance with the lecturer, will be due by the end of the first semester. This will serve as background research for the major project (e.g.: ‘What did the brewing industry in Ireland look like in 1922?’). This minor research project and occasional first-semester research assignments will account for the remaining 35 percent of the course mark.

There is no end-of-year examination for this course.

For one-semester students, the grade will be based on first-semester performance. (This course will not be open to one-semester students entering in the second semester.)

Date for submission:

To be advised

Penalties for late submission:

Penalty of 10% per day beyond due date. Students unable for medical reasons to submit an assignment must produce a medical certificate to the School of Business office within three working days of the missed submission date. Certificates received after that time may not be accepted.


There is no end-of-year examination for this course.