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FÁS and Active Labour Market Policy 1985 - 2004

Blue Paper Abstract

This paper provides an institutional analysis of Ireland’s principal labour market agency and explores the politics of policymaking in active labour market policy. It considers the capacity of the Irish state to effect change, the pattern of governance that developed within this policy area, the associated ideological and political struggles and the broad consequences of these for social and economic policy.

It argues that the Irish model of active labour market policy has combined an ambitious interventionist strategy to mobilise and up-skill labour with fiscal anorexia. FAS helped to resolve this contradiction by becoming the ‘Swiss army knife’ of the Irish state: a highly flexible, multi-functional instrument used to address myriad policy problems. Its capacity to deliver policy with low fixed and low net costs contributed to its success. It was also able to manipulate both business and community groups into bearing a significant proportion of the burden associated with schemes whilst retaining effective control over policy.

FAS as an institution and its principal programmes have attracted much criticism, but it has also enjoyed strong support from a core advocacy coalition consisting of the populist wing of Fianna Fail and the trade union wing of the Labour Party. Furthermore, the clientelistic nature of Irish politics provided a robust political constituency of politicians largely immune to research-based criticism. The unusual prominence of active labour market policy, relative to other social programmes, has created important legacies including a “soft-money” welfare state. However, reliance on solutions generated by FAS may have inhibited efforts at more fundamental policy reform of Irish social policy.

The paper was launched on Monday 14 March 2005 by Senator Mary O'Rourke.

About the Author

Professor Boyle was a Visiting Research Fellow at The Policy Institute from February 2004 until August 2004 while on sabbatical from Pitzer College, Claremont, California where he is the Associate Professor of Political Studies. He was also Director of the European Union Center of California until July 2003. Since receiving his PhD from Duke University (in 1992), his research has focused on British labour market policy, comparative family leave policy, EU structural funding and, most recently, Irish labour market policy.

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Last updated 27 November 2012 .