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Asymmetric engagement: The Community and Voluntary Pillar in Irish social partnership

Asymmetric engagement: The Community and Voluntary Pillar in Irish social partnership

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Asymmetric engagement: The Community and Voluntary Pillar in Irish social partnership

457 Seiten
6 Stunden
May 16, 2016


This book focuses on one of the most innovative aspects of Irish social partnership, the Community and Voluntary Pillar. It is the most thorough account of the dynamics of the Pillar to date and tackles the weaknesses in existing perspectives. Through the lens of asymmetric engagement, Larragy captures the elusive ways in which small organisations may achieve some real change, suffer setbacks and periods in the doldrums, and still come back for more. Against the warp and weft of broader political and economic dynamics, and shifts in the political sentiment of the demos, the book identifies windows of opportunity for organisations acting as policy entrepreneurs.

This volume will address a key gap in the literature on Irish political studies, governance institutions and social policy. Written in a clear and lively style, this is a wonderful resource and should be an essential text for students.
May 16, 2016

Über den Autor

Joe Larragy is Lecturer in Social Policy at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth

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Asymmetric engagement - Joe Larragy




The Irish model of social partnership, which emerged and evolved from 1987 onwards, was comparatively unusual in that it accommodated the involvement of community and voluntary organisations in a ‘tripartite’ corporatist framework built around centralised wage bargaining. This dimension of social partnership has been regarded as puzzling in a comparative and theoretical context and this in turn has led to divergent views on the nature of the Irish model, and provides the rationale for the present case study. Yet, despite article-length commentaries, book chapters or passing comments in wider commentaries on social partnership, and a volume comparing governance in Ireland and Malawi (Gaynor 2010), little has yet been published of work specifically intended to examine community and voluntary sector participation in social partnership. This book is therefore intended to explore this important gap in Irish social science research.

Using a case study approach, the book explores the unique and problematic entity known as the Community and Voluntary Pillar (CVP, the Pillar), which brought a range of new actors into a tripartite system of social partnership in Ireland from 1996. This development led to conflicting interpretations of the resultant model and of the implications for the organisations making up the CVP. While some have claimed much for the modified model, and by implication the Pillar, others have been dismissive, or taken a more conventional view of the model as a whole. However, no one has undertaken a close study of the CVP to test such claims.

Research objectives

The book seeks to address this gap in knowledge, and clarify the complex dynamics of the Pillar using a case study approach. Through a critical account blending the narratives of actors in four key associations in the Pillar, the study explores the CVP in the institutional context of social partnership and the changing political and economic environment over time. The contribution to knowledge is on several levels comprising: (i) a review of existing theoretical accounts of Irish social pacts with particular reference to the role or significance of the Pillar; (ii) exploration of new theoretical perspectives that might contribute to a better understanding of the Pillar; (iii) detailed empirical investigation of the origins and facets of the Pillar through the study of the most pivotal associations in it; and (iv) the development of a distinct and original account of the dynamics of the Pillar, termed ‘asymmetric engagement’, explaining how small organisations have operated in social partnership, amid the warp and weft of political and economic cycles and shifts in the demos.

This chapter sets the scene, the relevant historical context and the rationale for the study, as well as the approach adopted and the empirical focus on key associations, to be expanded on in later chapters.


While Ireland shares a formative history of pluralist industrial relations and liberal democratic government with Britain, it also has a more recent history of state engagement with employer and trade union federations since the early 1960s and of bipartite wage bargaining from the 1970s. The National Industrial and Economic Council (NIEC) was established in October 1963 as an advisory body to the government with representation from employers, industry, trade unions and government nominees.¹ The NIEC was succeeded in 1973 by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), which also included farming interests and had a wider remit including social policy. A bipartite system of centralised wage bargaining emerged in 1970 through the independently chaired Employer-Labour Conference but bargaining broke down in 1981 after seven national wage agreements and two ‘national understandings’ (i.e. agreements of broader scope than pay bargaining). Irish social pacts in the 1970s did not achieve the successes associated with the classical corporatist models applied elsewhere (Hardiman 1988). Instead of the positive sum game that post-war social corporatism facilitated elsewhere, things never quite gelled in the Irish case. Social reform aspirations were dashed by the oil shocks and stag-flation; government deficits followed and centralised bargaining was viewed as part of the problem rather than the solution. Although free collective bargaining resumed in 1981, the NESC continued to function during the 1980s and contributed to the establishment of a tripartite system of bargaining in 1987.

Two important aspects can be noted regarding the post-1987 model in Ireland. First, viewed historically, the new model was more sophisticated in that it embedded traditional actors in a process of negotiated governance with the state, around – to a greater or lesser degree – fiscal, monetary, developmental, productivity and distributional objectives. Wage and related negotiations were again centralised but the parameters were set out in deliberative bodies before the critical bargaining talks began, with both stages chaired by government officials. This was in contrast to the 1970s pacts in which pay negotiations operated through the more autonomous Employer-Labour Conference. Second, viewed comparatively, the post-1987 pacts belong to what may be regarded as the ‘new social pacts’ which are distinguished from the classical neo-corporatism of the post-war period. Whereas the post-war pacts elsewhere were associated with brisk economic growth, full employment, rising government spending and the deepening of social citizenship embodied in the welfare state, the ‘new’ social pacts are often related to forms of monetary restriction, containment of state spending, and industrial and labour market restructuring (see Chapter 2).

In 1987, the incoming government restored social partnership partly as a mechanism to secure support from key social groups (employers, unions and farmers) as it introduced highly unpopular public spending cuts. After an initial period of austerity, in which the social partnership model was questioned in many quarters, the Irish experience over the years 1987 to 2008 was to become one of exceptional growth. This expansion was all the more extraordinary given the circumstances of the late 1980s – the parlous state of government finances, spiralling levels of unemployment, seriously high emigration, widespread poverty and marginalisation of many urban and rural communities.

Theoretical and empirical rationale for the study

This deep crisis, and the attendant crisis of legitimacy in the political establishment, which continued despite the creation of social partnership in 1987, is the primary reason for an important distinct and novel dimension of Ireland’s social pacts: the Community and Voluntary Pillar. The Pillar was a mechanism that allowed associations in the community and voluntary sector to participate in what was originally a tripartite model of co-ordinated wage-bargaining. The Pillar was added to the architecture of social partnership in late 1996 during the negotiations for Partnership 2000, the fourth in the series of agreements that began in 1987 with the Programme for National Recovery (PNR). However, the Pillar was several years in the making, and cannot be understood without reference to when its diverse seeds were sown in the 1980s.

The creation of the CVP has stimulated animated debates concerning whether it indicated that the basic characteristics of social partnership had changed, or threatened the corporatist integrity of the model, or indeed was anti-democratic. These debates provide the key to the theoretical rationale for the present study. Essentially, the participation of the CVP in social partnership alongside the traditional interest groups, actors, or ‘social partners’ – i.e. employers, unions and by 1987, farmers – is, from a comparative perspective, novel, in some respects anomalous and, to the extent that it has given rise to conflicting interpretations among Irish social scientists and commentators, important from a conceptual and theoretical perspective. The present study is aimed at a concrete exploration of the origins and significance of the CVP in the context of social partnership and in the wider political-economic context from which social partnership emerged. Through a focus on the genesis, views and experience of the actors who came to make up the CVP, it is hoped, firstly, to address this basic deficit.

The motivation for the research is not solely to plug an empirical or descriptive gap but to address the fact that the CVP is not merely novel but also in some theoretical senses anomalous. It is anomalous because the associations involved in the CVP are not functionally related to the economy in the way employers’ and workers’ organisations are related to each other through the labour market and the state. This key difference has in turn stimulated debate on the significance of the Pillar. While some commentators would be dismissive of the Pillar as an epiphenomenon, others are more concerned that it might be indicative of a more general alteration in the dynamics and modalities of social partnership. Within the corporatist analytical framework, the Pillar is anomalous because corporatism involves bargaining by peak organisations as rational actors – and the Pillar is difficult to square with this concept. Alternatively the inception of the CVP has triggered new interpretations of Irish social partnership, with the accent on ‘deliberation’, ‘problem-solving’ and ‘strategic consensus’. With that has even come a new concept of ‘social partner’, which departs from the rational actor model in favour of an altogether more permeable model whereby interests and even identities are redefined in the negotiation of a strategic, national consensus. This divergence provides an important theoretical starting point for the present study.

But it is not the only theoretical starting point. The CVP has also stimulated debate about the place of associations more generally in relation to representative democracy, and this cannot be discussed just in relation to corporatism. Rather it entails some consideration of a wider field of comparative analysis that takes in pluralist as well as corporatist polities, a wider range of possible relationships between the state and civil society, and a consideration of the more general problem of parliamentary democracy and the influence of associations and social movements, particularly when involved in extra-parliamentary institutions set up by the state.

Various interpretations of the Irish model have touched on the subject of the Pillar and implicitly offered interpretations of its significance, which range from the enthusiastic to the dismissive. Some of these interpretations are rooted in a definite intellectual tradition with a tendency to prejudge the Pillar’s significance – or lack of it – for instance because of prior theoretical positions derived from dependency analysis (O’Hearn 1998) or Marxian class analysis (Allen 2000). Indeed these approaches tend to minimise the significance of social partnership itself, regarding it simply as an epiphenomenon of neo-liberalism. Altogether contrasting interpretations derive from state actors’ and policy-makers’ concerns, and view the Pillar as evidence of an evolution of social partnership institutions and governance in the Irish model that enhanced democracy (NESF 1997).

A variety of mid-range approaches have focused on the institutional specificities of the Irish model in terms of a broadly corporatist perspective (Hardiman 2006; Roche 2007). These accounts can be situated in a comparative context explored more generally by others (Baccaro 2003; Fajertag and Pochet 2000; Rhodes 1998; 2001; 2003). Some accounts have sought to address the peculiarity of the CVP in this context (Hardiman 2006; O’Donnell 2008; O’Donnell and O’Reardon 2000; O’Donnell and Thomas 1998; Roche 2007, 2008) but the discussion is unresolved. The present study therefore explores the CVP in greater depth in order to respond to these debates, and attempts to break new ground in analytical terms as a way of resolving some of the divergent interpretations in existing scholarship.

Ironically, in this instance, the focus on a narrower empirical field requires a wider theoretical compass. Therefore, the present study also explores some of the wider debates of the 1990s about associative democracy and the critique of liberal democracies soon articulated after the fall of Communism (Cohen and Rogers 1995a; Held 2006; Hirst 1994; Mansbridge 1995). This discussion looks at the logic of associations in the moderation of states and markets (Streeck and Schmitter 1985a) and new challenges for democracy in post-industrial society (Crouch 2004). Indeed the review necessarily explores classical theory about state–civil society relations (Gramsci 1971; Hegel 1991; Marx 1970) in order to provide a sufficiently encompassing theoretical grounding for the study. This theoretical survey also examines the potential relevance of social mobilisation theory, which has not previously been applied to the Pillar, and theoretical perspectives relating to power and legitimacy, which have also been under-explored.

These debates have a wider cross-cultural relevance and they apply to pluralist polities as well as polities with institutionalised interest mediation. This wider compass is necessary in the present study because, typically, the corporatist framework of discussion is limited in how thoroughly it can capture the dynamics of what is a more miscellaneous category of associations in the CVP. The exploration of wider theoretical themes is a key element in exploring the more varied types of association that form the focus of this study.

However, very little empirical research has been undertaken on the Pillar to date and there is a serious gap in basic knowledge about the Pillar that the present study aims to address. Contributions to the interpretive literature on Irish social partnership and on the Pillar are relatively plentiful, but detailed research on the Pillar, the actors that constitute it, and the course of their experience of the process at national level, are few. Such studies as have been undertaken by authors who are mainly interested in the world of the community and voluntary sector have looked mostly at the involvement of these organisations or activists in the context of local level or area-based partnership (Craig 1994; Craig and McKeown 1993; Lee 1992; Powell and Geoghegan 2004; Sabel 1996; Teague 2007). Few have focused directly on the sector’s experience of engagement with the state through national level social partnership. Indeed, Powell and Geoghegan (2004) describe the local partnership bodies as ‘social partnership’, as did others, increasingly, over the 1990s. But the present study makes a clear distinction between these local multi-partite bodies focused on specific social inclusion or local development objectives, on the one hand, and the CVP in strategic national level social partnership, on the other. So far, therefore, others have provided very cursory empirical accounts of the CVP, usually as part of a wider focus on social partnership. Hastings, Sheehan and Yeates (2007), for example, included a detailed chapter on the Pillar in a wider study.

A case study

While I have previously set out the historical context, origins and significance of the Pillar (Larragy 2006), with a specific focus on one of its constituent organisations (the INOU), the present study is much more ambitious, both in theoretical and empirical terms, and aims to provide greater detail on the CVP through the lenses of several member organisations. Here I examine the CVP using a case study approach. The CVP as a whole is the ‘case’ but its dynamics are generated by the interplay of some key constituent organisations within it. Therefore, in order to convey its dynamic properties, and do justice to the fact that the Pillar is not a singularity, the book also provides narratives on four of its most prominent member associations. These associations are the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU), the Community Workers’ Co-operative (CWC, the Co-op), the Justice Commission of the Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI Justice) and the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI).

In the context of each member organisation, the study explores the origins, philosophy, early engagement with the state, the process by which it became a social partner and its pattern of involvement in the Pillar and social partnership. While issues and organisations overlap, the focus here is on the narratives of the individual associations. As it happens, this approach picks up the most important substantive policy questions that were taken up by the Pillar and in many cases a specific association can be identified as having ‘led’ on a given issue.

This approach is very different from the research strategy often adopted in relation to quantitative measurement of social progress under social partnership during the era of the ‘Celtic Tiger’, but the two approaches should be seen as complementary. Here I seek to capture the process of engagement by these actors with social partnership and the wider political process, and point to the successes and failures of the Pillar and its constituent actors over an extended timeframe. The strong empirical focus is intended to address a deficit that undermines claims regarding the Pillar’s significance that derive largely from aprioristic paradigms. However, in addition to challenging some of the more sweeping perspectives, I have developed a characterisation of the process as I have observed it, which I have dubbed ‘asymmetric engagement’. Thus, I hope to contribute to the way in which we theorise about small organisations as they interact with more powerful forces in state and civil society.

A guide to chapters

The question this book asks is: ‘What is the significance of the CVP in Irish social partnership?’ In order to address this question, firstly, at the theoretical level, mainstream interpretations of Irish social partnership, and their limitations in relation to understanding the CVP, are examined in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 explores some ideas that might provide a fresh perspective and broader basis for understanding some of the unique properties of the Pillar. The use of a case study methodology is briefly outlined in Chapter 4 together with some key concepts used in the study. Chapter 5 provides an account of the Pillar as a whole, its origins and component organisations, and its broad evolution over time. In Chapters 6-9, the empirical focus then shifts to the origins, development and impact of four associations which were pivotal to the creation the Pillar and its principal driving forces during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Finally, in Chapter 10, the competing interpretations of the significance of the Pillar are appraised and a fresh interpretation, asymmetric engagement, is set out.


Without an empirical touchstone to provide a more concrete focus, debates about the CVP and its implications for understanding social partnership in Ireland remain somewhat abstract. From this perspective, the present case study is valuable precisely because the Pillar is anomalous in the context of the comparative study of social pacts and because it is tantalisingly close to situations that have been considered only in hypothetical terms in wider debates on associations and democracy. It is hoped, by investigating the specificity of the origins and significance of the CVP, to tease out the connections between these wider theoretical debates and the more specific debates around new social pacts.

As a case study, therefore, the present research sees value not only in reporting the facts but also in exploring the anomalies. It is from anomalies that knowledge often progresses – as Kuhn (1996) famously wrote – not only by linear addition but also by step-changes that arise from cracking away at anomalies in the received wisdom of existing paradigms. While the present research does not claim to make a landmark paradigm shift, it is evident that different paradigms still compete over the definitive characterisation of the Irish model. By concentrating on a significant and disputed feature of the Irish case, therefore, this research might help to clarify some non-trivial matters. It is hoped, therefore, that the study of this unusual feature of the Irish model will provide a touchstone for overlapping debates about the significance of more varied non-governmental organisations participating in new patterns of governance while shedding light on how the Irish model as a whole might be characterised.


1  The remit of the NIEC was narrow: ‘The Council shall have regard to the level and trend of incomes, including wages, salaries, profits, rents and other incomes, with a view to the inclusion in its reports of policy recommendations on these matters.’ For more on the terms of reference see Dáil Éireann 1963.


Interpretations of Irish social partnership


The subject of social partnership has been approached in a number of ways. This chapter provides an overview of these approaches in order to set the scene for examining the more specific topic of the CVP. This discussion covers both historical and comparative perspectives and is tailored to the more recent period, i.e. since 1987. In the first part, the variety of sceptical perspectives on the Irish model of social partnership is explored. Much of this material is pitched at a negative and abstract level, with limited if any empirical investigation. Next, because more concrete interpretations have engaged with neo-corporatist literature, the chapter explores this approach in more detail, in historical and comparative perspective. More specifically, this discussion leads on to examining the Irish experience from 1987 as a variant of the ‘new social pacts’ to emerge internationally since the 1980s. Finally, differing interpretations of the significance of the innovation of the CVP are discussed, with the main focus remaining on the extent to which this amends, stretches or even transforms the underlying corporatist paradigm.

Perspectives on Irish social partnership

Sceptics – left, right and centre

The Irish model of social partnership has been analysed from various perspectives. It has been viewed from the left as a mechanism to subordinate labour and marginalised interests to multinational and native capital or, in more familiar terms, it is an intrinsic part of a neo-liberal model, whatever way it is dressed up. The two main variants of this approach are O’Hearn (1998) who placed the accent on ‘dependency’ of Irish development on international capitalism, and Allen (2000) who offers a more recognisably Marxian account. While there is little doubt that neo-liberalism became increasingly prevalent internationally from the 1980s, as a political trend, it does not adequately capture developments in the Irish context. One difficulty is that, in contrast to the 1981-86 period of free collective bargaining, the period over which social partnership existed (1987-2007) saw an unprecedented level of economic growth per capita, up-skilling, growth of average earnings, and dramatic reductions in unemployment. Moreover, the period as a whole was one of peaceful industrial relations deriving not from defeat of labour and trade unions – unlike the UK following the defeat of the miners in 1985 – but from class compromise and collaboration. This is not to deny the rising share of GDP going to profits and capital or the level of relative inequality (although that stabilised in the 2000s, according to the Central Statistics Office), nor indeed the extent to which (due to income tax cuts) net rather than gross wage earnings accounted for much of the rising income of most workers. But, even in Marxian terms, the evidence points to a period of investment-driven expansion and increasing labour productivity rather than a deepening rate of exploitation of labour through wage depression, which might be expected of neo-liberalism. Moreover, instead of the panoply of workfare and stigmatisation that was actively touted in the 1980s and 1990s in the US and UK, the decades of the Celtic Tiger (which coincided with social partnership) witnessed a general increase in living standards and labour market policies that were supportive of the unemployed. In terms of dependency theories of development, the period indeed deepened the reliance on foreign investment, and in that sense maintained Ireland’s ‘dependency’, but it also signalled the death knell of ‘undevelopment’, outlined by Crotty (1986) in his classic statement of the dependency thesis in the Irish context. For twenty years, Ireland’s development – dependent though it was – brought increased living standards, doubled the level of employment, raised incomes and living standards and witnessed major improvements in public infrastructure. The political logic of these accounts – pointing either towards a more indigenous type of economic model or mobilisation of the working class against capital – found little to connect with in the actual unfolding of Irish society over the 1987-2007 years.

Kirby (2002) undertook an important survey of economic ‘growth with inequality’ in Ireland. His is an interesting account that explored the specificities of state, market and civil society in a critical account of economic development. He reached a less conclusive view than either Allen or O’Hearn, at one point viewing Irish social partnership as part of an ‘Irish neo-liberalism’ (2002: 163) but elsewhere as ‘social liberalism’ (2002: 181). Kirby’s argument appeals for a resurgent and less deferential civil society – ‘particularly on the part of those sectors most marginalised by the prevailing socio-economic order’ (Kirby 2002: 200). This is not posed merely moralistically or wishfully: he refers also to Polanyi’s account of market society, which predicts the spontaneous movement of what would nowadays be called ‘civil society’ towards market-correction (i.e. the ‘double movement’ as outlined in Polanyi 2001). This is an interesting and critical point because it relates to what elements in the CVP of social partnership claim to represent – albeit they have pursued goals through available institutions rather than though protest or from the outside.

The Irish social partnership model has been viewed with equal scepticism from representatives of orthodox, neo-classical economics. Before it was instituted, such critics were generally opposed, but as it survived and even appeared to be part of an economic success story, the critique became more muted. Clinch et al. (2002) for example, said that the ‘bottom line’ for them was that social partnership was helpful only in relation to wage management but that all the extra ‘social engineering accretions’ should be ‘scrapped’ (2002: 91-95). Furthermore they called for greater flexibility in the pay deals to enable wages, and in particular public sector wages, to be adjusted (inversely) with any rise in unemployment. Later, as these ‘accretions’ did not seem to have had any disastrous consequences, another economist, O’Leary (2006), simply argued that industrial relations stability, wage predictability and wage moderation – the channels through which social partnership may be thought to have contributed to Ireland’s economic success – might well have come about anyway without social partnership. Fitz Gerald (2000) had earlier taken the view that social partnership, by stabilising industrial relations, made wage adjustment relatively trouble-free, though he pointed to signs of wage adjustment from the 1980s that might have continued anyway. He suggested that social partnership validated wage developments but that the market determined them (Fitz Gerald 2000: 42–3). Interestingly, in the wake of the financial crisis, a report for the Department of Finance (Wright 2010) made several references to the Department’s budgetary process being overwhelmed by social partnership.

A different type of scepticism about social partnership came from a concern about the relative importance of representative political institutions in a liberal democratic state. O’Cinnéide (1998/9) posed questions about the place of new institutions that operate on the basis of notional mandates and the license to negotiate on behalf of various interests, groups or communities who do not directly vote or make these actors accountable. There are two concerns expressed here: firstly, which has been most often repeated, the danger of unaccountable and self-serving groups overriding democratically accountable institutions and second, less often recalled, the distraction that such involvement might constitute for organisations that would be more effective in serving communities if able to act and criticise government policy more freely than is allowed once inside the institutions. This critique of social partnership raises many more fundamental issues, particularly concerning the Community Pillar, which will be taken up in the next chapter, and indeed in the course of the book.

The role of the Pillar has also been referred to more recently by Adshead (2011: 85) whose view is that, far from punching above their weight, the CVP organisations were ‘neither willing nor able to observe the established rules of the game’. She cites traditional social partners, according to whom pay was at the centre, and some of them viewed the CVP ‘overly absorbed by the froth’ (Adshead 2011: 86). However, the nature of the ‘game’, in relation to the CVP, is of the essence in this study. Suffice to say here, there is logic underlying it, but it is more complex and significant than allowed by formal ‘game theory’.


In contrast to these partnership sceptics coming from different and sometimes opposed perspectives, there are some accounts of the success of the Celtic Tiger economy which attribute some credit for Ireland’s economic success to social partnership, with some accounts playing up the role of politicians (MacSharry 2000) and others the role of the trade unions (Sweeney 1999). These accounts say little of the role of the Community Pillar. Some have stressed the positive impact of social partnership in generating the economic success, while identifying some threats to tripartism itself, particularly at the workplace level, and the related issue of Ireland’s position on the ‘value chain’ of international production and exchange. The creation of a consensus around some key principles and economic decisions by all sides (e.g. fiscal correction, moderation of gross wage growth, non-accommodating exchange rate policy, protocols for industrial dispute prevention, membership of EMU etc.) did, it is argued, both rescue Ireland from a serious impasse and re-route it along a sustainable path of economic and social development (Hastings, Sheehan and Yeates 2007).

Ireland’s model in comparative and historical perspective

When Irish social partnership is more closely analysed, however, it is viewed in comparative and historical perspective as a variety of tripartite corporatism or concertation. Roche (1992) provided an early theoretical grounding in these terms for understanding social partnership as it emerged from 1987, and stressed its potential as an alternative to industrial relations pluralism. Hardiman (1998; 2000) developed her earlier approach (Hardiman 1988) to explore the post-1987 social partnership model by providing an account that distinguishes between it and the failed model of the 1970s. She also examined innovative aspects such as the CVP. Up to a certain point, too, O’Donnell and O’Reardon (1996) subscribed to the view that in Ireland the trade unions in particular had succeeded in breaking from the ‘liberal pluralist’ UK model, defying predictions of increased trade union fragmentation and sectionalism, to pursue and achieve a level of encompassing unity ‘transcending the immediate priorities of its component groups’.

Later, lively debate on the precise nature of the Irish model of social partnership was shaped around neo-corporatism. Several writers have attempted to locate the Irish pacts in relation to types and subtypes of tripartism, such as competitive corporatism (Hardiman 2000; Rhodes 1998; 2001; Roche 1998), ‘liberal corporatism’ (Turner 2002); ‘flexible network governance’ (Hardiman 2006), ‘extended political exchange’ (Roche 2007); ‘developmental corporatism’ (Teague 1995); and even ‘neo-liberal corporatism’ (Boucher and Collins 2003), while O’Donnell and O’Reardon (2000) developed a ‘post-corporatist’ account of the evolving model. Before looking at the specific arguments among some of the key contributors on Ireland, it is worthwhile to comment on corporatism and neo-corporatism as more widely understood.

Bipartism in Ireland in a neo-corporatist perspective

The broad theoretical context for Ireland’s first attempt at centralised bargaining in the 1970-81 period is post-war corporatism. Social corporatism or neo-corporatism was defined by Schmitter as:

a system of interest representation in which the constituent units are organized into a limited number of singular, compulsory, non-competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories, recognized or licensed (if not created) by the state and granted a deliberate representational monopoly within their respective categories in exchange for observing certain controls on their selection of leaders and articulation of demands and supports. (Schmitter 1979: 93–94)

The acknowledgement of corporatism as a strategy of the left in the post-war world was ironic because, prior to the Second World War, the concept of corporatism was strongly associated with authoritarian regimes such as Mussolini’s Fascist government in Italy. Then, Social Democrats elsewhere, as in Scandinavian countries, sought to control capitalism or effect socialist transformation via politics and parliamentary power. The title of a 1979 paper by Schmitter, asking if the twentieth century was still the ‘century of corporatism’, pointed up this irony, referring as it did to the title of a book by Manoilescu¹ who was an admirer of Mussolini and an advocate of authoritarian corporatism. Hence, neo-corporatism is sometimes referred to as the third ‘ism’ (Wiarda 1997).

Schmitter and Lehmbruch (1979) distinguished between authoritarian state corporatism of the pre-Second World War period and the ‘societal corporatism’ or ‘neo-corporatism’ of the post-war decades. The latter was often generated through a pact or partnership between labour and employers through peak organisations in a system of bipartite or tripartite co-determination involving the state. The focus of analysis of post-war corporatism was a new type of social pact entered into consensually by the major interests of labour and capital, often with the state, for certain public goods. Neo-corporatism coincided in time with the era of ‘settlement’ between capital and labour, embodied in widely shared commitment to the welfare state and social citizenship in advanced European countries (Flora l986) and the triumph of the Keynesian macro-economic paradigm over neo-classical orthodoxies associated with the pre-war depression and political fallout of the 1930s. But neo-corporatism, though associated with both, is analytically distinct from the welfare state and Keynesian economics.

At heart, neo-corporatism, or concertation of labour and capital, taking varied forms, was an alternative paradigm to the liberal pluralist wage bargaining model and was designed to address simultaneously the challenges of growth, price stability and full employment. In an imperfect private market system of free collective bargaining, social costs such as inflation and unemployment take the form of externalities because bargaining is narrowly framed between micro-economic actors. Instead of harking after the utopia of ‘perfect’ competition beloved of neo-classical economics, the challenge set by neo-corporatism was to achieve a sufficiently encompassing level of commitment by peak organisations on each side to create an incentive for memberships to minimise social costs (such as inflation or unemployment) by making it very difficult to externalise such costs. The literature on this subject has been explored in depth in the context of a key study of Ireland’s

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