BUU44630 Economic Policy and Business History

(20 ECTS)


Emmett Oliver

Email: eoliver@tcd.ie 
Office Hours: By appointment

Module Description: 

This course provides students with a broad overview of (i) the business history of Ireland from independence in 1922 to the establishment of the Single European Market in 1992 and the emergence of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy, plus subsequent economic crash and (ii) of the economic policies, technological developments and world conditions that drove developments in Irish business. It concentrates strongly on the idea of ‘transition’- the transition from free trade, to protectionism, to inward investment and now to decarbonisation and how these changes impact Irish firms/sectors. 

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. Their source materials can come from back issues of newspapers, government reports, visits to company/national archives, national library, books, online sources and occasionally family and friends. Much of the material is non-digitised and has to be extracted, using research skills and the student’s judgement. Particularly important in the project is interpretation of the historical ‘traces’ the student locates and using this material to create a compelling narrative. 

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 also learn about the early stirrings of business environmentalism and the modern age of decarbonisation of the Irish and other Western economies.  

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. 

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:

Cormac Ó’ Grada, Rocky Road- The Irish Economy Since the 1920s (Manchester University Press). 

General Supplemental Readings:

Andy Bielenberg, Ray Ryan, An Economic History of Ireland Since Independence (Routledge) 

In addition, various readings on specific sectors will be advised, where possible, by the lecturer to assist students with their projects. 


75% of the course mark is available to be awarded for the major research project and the remaining 20% will be awarded for in-class tests at the end of each teaching term, with up to 5% for the submission of a visual ‘ghost sign’ aid. (The major research project will be due for submission at the end of the teaching year, in April 2024, leaving students free from that time to focus their full attention on their other courses).  

The second in-class assignment, in semester 2,will also include a preliminary question on the early findings of a student’s research project. This answer will not be graded, but will be taken into account when the overall grade for the research project is awarded.