BUU44630 Economic Policy and Business History

(20 ECTS)



Emmett Oliver

Email: eoliver@tcd.ie 
Office Hours: Please email to organize an appointment 

Module Description: 

This course provides students with a broad overview (i) of the business history of Ireland from independence in 1922 to the establishment of the Single European Market in 1992 and the subsequent emergence of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy, and (ii) of the economic policies, technological developments and world conditions that drove developments in Irish business.

Students will be allocated a sector on which they will write a major research project analysing the characteristics, evolution, strategies, and major firms present in their allocated sector.

The research period will range from Ireland’s independence from Great Britain in 1922 (with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty) to the modern technology-led services economy that notably emerged with the founding of the Irish Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in 1987, a key event in the emergence of the so-called Celtic Tiger economy.

Students will have some choice over the sector on which their research will be conducted, but the project will be situated within the services segment of the economy, not manufacturing. There is no international consensus on what constitutes ‘services or the tertiary sector, but the United Nations, International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) is used by the majority of countries around the world as their national activity classification. Based on the ISIC, sectors that fall within the research project will be: retail (including wholesale/storage), transportation (trains, buses and planes), hospitality (including hotels, restaurants, pubs) and tourism, information and communication technology and media, financial services, real estate, professional services (accountancy, architecture, law, engineering), arts/entertainment, personal services (domestic service, hairdressing, dentistry, doctors) and construction. In order to make the research load manageable for students it has been decided to exclude government services and utilities.

  • Topics to be explored will include:
    • Today the Irish economy is primarily a services economy- when measured by employment. How did this happen and why did it happen? Why did particular services segments go from being marginal activity to large industries? Are their particular trends or turning points that can be identified as significant in their evolution?
    • Services were once considered important, but not tradeable, but what made some services become tradeable and how were firms impacted by this transformation? How successful have certain sectors been in internationalising and what institutional factors were relevant to this change?
    • There are several theories explaining a shift to services in 20th century economies, but which one might be most relevant in an Irish context?
    • How did Ireland’s long-established domestic services firms perform over the period? (Many of these, across a broad range of sectors, would have been wiped out or consolidated into larger firms, many from overseas).
    • How did government influence/policy impact on the evolution of the leading services firms and services sectors?
    • What technological developments in individual sectors were important to the evolution of leading firms in these sectors? Can these technological changes be identified and traced?

A student might imagine that these questions could be easily answered by simply identifying the appropriate publications or even via Google.  This would be incorrect!  By engaging in the research, the student will discover that much more innovative detective skills are required. In addition, the Module seeks to discover how different economic policies (free trade V protectionism for instance) impact certain sectors.

Learning and Teaching Approach:

The analytical background will be provided in lectures, where the leading services sectors in operation at various stages of Ireland’s economic and business history will be discussed. The characteristics of the market-leading firms will also be explored, as will the firm-level, national and international developments that led to these outcomes. The policy background sectors operated against will also be explored. 

Students will learn, through hands-on experience, how to identify the leading firms within each sector and how to trace their origins and subsequent histories. As much of the course is examined, attendance is strongly recommended. Strong research skills will be valued on the module and the earlier sessions will include guidance on information sources that may be useful for research project.

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students should be able to: 

  1. Identify the key national and international developments that impact the evolution of particular sectors of the economy. 
  2. Understand the critical economic policies that impact an economy and how they influence the evolution of firms and industries. 
  3. Understand the key economic theories, models and frameworks that explain how economies grow and develop, and how this impacts the services economy, but also manufacturing.
  4. Apply key interpretative research skills, including historical approaches, to research material across sectors and time periods.
  5. Analyse how different firms maximise the benefits or minimise the costs of changes in economic policy and technology and in the legal, political, national and global economic environments.
  6. Evaluate the success (or failure) of specific economic policies both at a macro and firm-level.
  7. Communicate key facts and theoretical contributions succinctly and with precision by displaying strong writing skills.
  8. Identify traces of the past in everyday surroundings using modern technology.

Recommended Texts/Key Reading:

Required core course textbook:

A Rocky Road, The Irish Economy Since the 1920. Cormac O’Grada (1997). Manchester University Press.

General Supplemental Readings:

Readings pertaining to the lectures will be posted on the class website.

Readings specific to the research project will depend on the sub-sector to be investigated.  The relevant material will be unearthed by the students themselves with the assistance of the course lecturer. 


65% percent of the course mark will be awarded for the major research project and the remaining 30 percent will be awarded for in-class tests at the end of each teaching term, with 5% for the submission of a visual aid. (The major research project will be due for submission at the end of the teaching year, circa 25 April 2022, which will leave students free from that time to focus their full attention on their other courses). Guidance on grading approach for the research project will be provided to students during the Module.