Seán Lemass and His Contribution to Irish History
During his seven years as Taoiseach, Seán Lemass' government achieved
much. The years 1959 to 1966 saw considerable, though often
exaggerated, change in Ireland in the fields of politics, the economy,
the standard of living and international relations. This
transformation succeeded in bringing Ireland up to speed with other
nations and helped prepare the country for the modern world. However,
the credit for this change is by no means entirely due to Lemass.
The first thing that changed was the political situation. Without this
change, Lemass would have achieved little. The year 1959 saw the end
to De Valera's presence, which had dominated politics for decades.
With De Valera went other members of the old generation. This enabled
Lemass, as Taoiseach, to bring in a troupe of young people to
ministerial positions. These included Jack Lynch, CJ Haughey, Donogh
O'Malley and Brian Lenihan. This created a flexible cabinet, in total
contrast with conservative Fianna Fáil governments of the past.
However, it is likely that many of the older generation would have
retired anyway due to old age; a similar shift occurred in other
The economic improvement is often exaggerated; after the slump in the
fifties, any recovery would be welcome. Significant improvements were
made, but there were also failures. The continuation of high
emigration figures show that these years were not absolute prosperity.
Lemass changed economic policy, which until now had had dismal
failures. Lemass was a realist and saw that it was no longer possible
to blame Britain for Ireland's situation. The shift in policy enabled
Ireland to benefit from a world-wide boom. The Anglo-Irish Trade
Agreement of 1965 improved the export market. The largest
transformation was in the civil service sector. This was achieved
through a policy of 'planning and co-operation' and the National
Industrial and Economic Council. Lemass restored morale in a nation
that had seen a string of disappointments and failures.
However, the Lemass years saw an influx of foreign investment. 360
foreign manufacturers were established themselves in Ireland between
1960 and 1969. This removes much of the glory from Lemass. The delay
in entering the EEC limited the country's export potential. At times
the state seemed close to bankruptcy. Economic planning was based on a
series of Programmes for Economic Expansion devised by TK Whitaker.
Only one out of three of these achieved its aims. Little...