1. 0 Introduction



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Leadership in the Republic of Ireland

Mary Keating and Gillian S Martin

1.0 Introduction


The island of Ireland is situated to the extreme north-west of Europe and is separated from Britain, its closest neighbour, by the Irish Sea. Ireland has been inhabited since the Stone Age. For more than five thousand years peoples moving westward across Europe, including the Celts, Vikings, Normans and English have settled here and contributed to its present population. Today, the population of the Republic of Ireland stands at 3.57 million (1994 Census). In 1841, shortly before the Great Famine, the area now comprising the present Irish State had a population of over 6.5 million. The 1851 census showed a massive decline to 5.1 million due to death from starvation, disease and large scale emigration. This outflow established a pattern which has only recently begun to change. Today, Ireland has one of the highest migration rates in the European Community (Pollack 1993). Whilst geography has destined Ireland to remain small and peripheral, our history as a people has mapped the country’s identity altogether differently. On a state visit to Sweden in April 1998, President Mary Robinson stated:

Our history binds Ireland to other countries, to our near neighbours, the Americas and Africa. Our history demonstrates again and again that our people defied geography as they forged new paths which connected ourselves to the outside, to other shores, to other ideas, to new people.


As a result of their travels, Irish people and their descendants are found all over the world. O’Dowd (1993) estimates that there may be as many as 60 million people of Irish descent living outside Ireland. Irish-Americans, Irish-Australians or Irish-Britons assert a strong cultural allegiance to their land of origin. The “extended family” raises questions about emigrant nationalities, borders and national culture, issues which have been highlighted in the recent negotiations for peace in Northern Ireland.
Historians and psychologists talk of national psyche and collective psyche. Concepts such as the “Irish personality” or “Irish psyche” can generate stereotypes and appear static, suggesting that variations across social groups, historical time and life span do not exist (Moane 1994). Such concepts do, however, bear the ‘imprint of bygone circumstances’ (Lee 1989). All generalisations about national psyche should be based on comparison, exhorts Lee, and for Ireland the English connection has been central to our historical experience. The fundamental difference between the Irish and English historical experience is that the English have been a conquering people, the Irish a conquered:

The attempt to create an area of psychic space free from the suffocating political and cultural embrace of a vastly more powerful England moulded the national psyche in numerous ways, positive and negative. Irish attitudes, however deviant from English “normalcy” represented a rational response to Irish circumstances. (Lee 1994, p.245)


Culture, as defined by the GLOBE study, refers to ‘shared motives, values, beliefs, identities and interpretations and meanings of significant events that result from common experiences of members of collectives and are transmitted across age generations’. The following chapter sets out to explore leadership in Ireland within its cultural and organisational context and to consider the interrelationship between societal and organisational culture as they impact on leadership. It also investigates the extent to which current attitudes to leadership within Irish society and organisational settings have been shaped by our recent and past history. It should perhaps be reiterated at this juncture that the present chapter focuses on leadership in the Republic of Ireland and does not include the jurisdiction constituted by Northern Ireland. The study is informed by the insights which have emerged from both quantitative and qualitative data generated within the framework of the GLOBE project, including questionnaires, focus groups, ethnographic interviews with Irish middle managers and a review of unobtrusive measures of culture. The organisational focus of the Irish GLOBE study is located in the financial services sector and the food industry.

One of the questions which is central to the research is the extent to which the cultural dimensions elicited within the framework of the GLOBE study replicate the profile identified by Hofstede some 25 years ago. Hofstede classifies the country as high on the masculine and individualist scales and low on power distance and uncertainty avoidance. Of critical importance in reviewing Ireland’s positioning on the four dimensions is the fact that Irish society has undergone fundamental changes since the time of Hofstede’s research, which have impacted on societal and organisational structures. Such transformations, which will be elaborated in the chapter, necessitate a reappraisal of the validity of Ireland’s classification, most particularly in response to the country’s passage from a pre to post-industrial society.


The chapter is divided into four principal sections. The first seeks to introduce Irish cultural identity from a social and historical perspective and thereby to provide a context in which to present the GLOBE study. The second section investigates societal culture and societal leadership with reference to the empirical research conducted within the framework of GLOBE. It focuses attention on one of the core research questions of GLOBE, specifically the influence of cultural environment on leadership concepts. The third section addresses this question in an organisational setting with reference to the data generated within the food processing and financial services industries with a view to ascertaining the extent of the interrelationship between societal and organisational culture and societal and organisational leadership concepts. Conclusions will be presented in the final section.
1.1 Perspectives on Ireland

Ireland has been studied from a variety of viewpoints including the post-colonial perspective, the nationalist perspective and with reference to the impact of the Roman Catholic Church. Lee (1989) mentions the following characteristics of modern Irish society which might be considered as post-colonial: extreme centralisation, resistance to change and new ideas, an absence of self-reflection, internal fragmentation and lack of self confidence, all of which add up to ‘a national inferiority complex’. Kane (1986), writing from an anthropological perspective, explores the notion of a ‘spoiled identity’ (p.541). She observes that a group’s ethnic identity is more likely to hold positive and negative assumptions about itself when it is part of a ‘conquest culture’ and when these assumptions are instilled in part by the conquering culture (pp.540f.). Interestingly, a number of negative cultural attributes have been embraced by anthropologists who see them as ‘phenomena to be explained rather than as points to be questioned or hypotheses to be tested’ (ibid., p.542). Kane cites as examples sexual repression and mental illness. Ruth (1988) suggests that ‘many of the changes we can see taking place in Ireland at present are typical of a post-colonial society’ (p.442). He identifies in this respect psychological patterns such as the acceptance of anti-Irish stereotypes (dim-witted, drunken, aggressive) and ensuing lack of pride, mistrust and divisiveness between Irish people, a narrow identity definition of being Irish, a lack of assertiveness and a tendency to oppress. Liberation from such patterns may, according to Ruth, involve anger and grief followed by pride, assertiveness and acceptance of all members of society.


Ireland is a 75 year old parliamentary democracy and has undergone vast changes since independence, particularly since the 1960s (Breen et al. 1990). The past twenty years have seen much turbulence as Irish society has shifted from being a traditional, socially conservative society towards redefinition of what it means to be Irish on the threshold of a new millennium. Membership of the European Union, global influences, especially the impact of communication and information technologies, shifting demographic patterns, higher levels of education have all contributed to this change. Within the stages of evolution prescribed by post-colonialism, it would appear that the process of liberation is under way. A sense of anger amongst the Irish people toward many of the institutions which have had such a profound influence on their lives, most notably the Catholic Church, has ceded to a questioning of their moral authority.
The Catholic Church continues to exert influence on Ireland and the Irish. To some, being Irish is synonymous with being Catholic. According to one commentator the social project of the Catholic Church in Ireland has been the maintenance of social stability (Nic Ghiolla Phadraig 1995). To this end it provided the State with independent legitimation; the State, in turn, instituted laws and policies in keeping with Catholic teaching. However, its power is waning, particularly in terms of influence on sexual politics and moral issues. Numerous recent sex scandals within the Church are also taking their toll, although a strong symbiosis still exists between Irish nationalism and Catholicism, and particularly in this century, has dominated the Northern Irish Protestants’ rejection of nationalism. Whilst the founding fathers of the separatist Irish tradition were Protestant rather than Catholic, the nationalist rank and file have since the 1790s been overwhelmingly Catholic, as have their leaders since 1900.
1.2 History: Ireland in the 20th Century

Following 800 years of domination, the Easter Rising of 1916 was the final rebellion against British rule in Ireland. This was followed by a bitter War of Independence (1919-1921) after which the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed and twenty six counties gained independence from the Crown as the Irish Free State. Six counties had been granted their own parliament in Belfast in 1920 and remained within the United Kingdom. The ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland between forces seeking a united Ireland and forces declaring continued allegiance to the Queen of England have been the legacy of this division and remain unresolved in spite of current efforts.

When Ireland finally achieved independence, the Irish Free State inherited a number of important assets including ‘an extensive system of communications, a developed banking system, a vigorous wholesale and retail network, an efficient and honest administration, universal literacy, a large stock of schools, houses and hospitals and enormous external assets’ (Haughton 1995, p.26). On the other hand, the new State faced a number of serious problems. It had to establish a new government in the wake of a destructive and divisive Civil War. The first government following the foundation of the Irish State in 1921 was headed by William T. Cosgrave, leader of the centre right political party Cumann na nGaedheal. His priority was to direct the country’s recovery from the civil war and to create an efficient administration. On the economic front, Cosgrave’s period of office saw the foundation of the Electricity Supply Board in 1927 and the opening of the Shannon Hydro-Electric Scheme, both of which were important stages in the country’s development.
Fianna Fail, the other centre right political party, entered office in 1932 with Eamon de Valera as head of government. De Valera, born in the United States to an Irish mother and Cuban father, embraced the role of protector of Irish nationalism and creator of the Irish nation. To this end, he instituted a policy requiring the use of the Irish language wherever possible and as a requisite of state education and employment in the civil service. A dispute over land payments to the British government spawned the economic war of 1932-1938. Trade between Britain and Ireland was curtailed, resulting in considerable hardship. In 1937, de Valera introduced a new constitution, declaring Ireland to be a sovereign, independent and democratic State. In keeping with her independence from Britain, Ireland remained neutral during the Second World War and thus escaped the worst effects of the conflict. In 1948, the Republic of Ireland Act was passed, severing Ireland’s last constitutional links with Britain. From the late 1950s onwards the country underwent rapid economic expansion, particularly under the premiership of Sean Lemass who in 1959 had succeeded de Valera as leader of the Fianna Fail party. De Valera had become President of Ireland in this year. Post 1965, following a free trade agreement between Ireland and Britain, there were significant developments in Irish trading patterns. These were also positively influenced by Ireland’s accession to the European Community in 1973.
1.3 Legal and Political Framework

The basic law of the Irish State is the Constitution of Ireland which was adopted by referendum in 1937. The Constitution states that all legislative, executive and judicial powers of government derive under God from the people. It sets out the form of government and defines the powers of the president, of the two houses of parliament and of the government. The Constitution defines the system of courts and regulates the appointment of the judiciary. It also sets out the fundamental rights of citizens under five broad headings: Personal Rights, The Family, Private Property, Education and Religion. Freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion are, subject to public order, constitutionally guaranteed. The State guarantees not to endow any religion. The majority of people belong to Christian denominations and at the 1991 census 92% were classified as Roman Catholic. The rate of religious practice amongst Irish Catholics is one of the highest in the world, although it is much lower than the statistics suggest. The Catholic Church has been and continues to be closely involved in the provision of education, health and welfare services. Much of this involvement is being re-negotiated as the Church redefines its mission in the light of dwindling vocations and the emerging voice of a more pluralist society.


Irish family law, based on the idealised model enshrined in Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution, is highly aspirational in character. At the same time there is, in practice, a good deal of tolerance for deviation from the normative principles, a point which has been witnessed in how the Irish people have dealt with the issues of abortion and divorce. Duncan (1994) observes that ‘it is a feature of certain areas of Irish law that there exists, or has existed, a considerable divide between legal aspiration or principle and social fact, but that this divide has been mitigated by a remarkable flexibility in the operation of those principles’ (p.450). His commentary poses interesting questions about Irish attitudes to law and how Irish society resolves certain deep conflicts, most notably, divorce, abortion and homosexuality. He suggests that our Catholic heritage of condemning the sin but not the sinner may go some way toward explaining this flexibility, but concludes that a more acceptable explanation, also influenced by our Catholic heritage, may lie in the in the Church’s view of the civil law as an important buttress of moral living. The idea that laws should be used to shape moral behaviour has in recent years given way to the more subtle idea that change in the law may create an environment which makes the individual’s path to virtue a more difficult one (Daly 1993; cit. Duncan 1994).
Family law is not the only area of Irish law that has been honoured in the breach rather than in the observance. Evidence presented at numerous recent tribunals investigating political and financial scandals in Ireland supports the view that a culture of non-compliance has existed in respect of commercial and company law. A certain pride was taken in the ability both to evade and avoid responsibilities, which was perceived to be fine as long as you got away with it. Up until recently, if you were caught, who you were and who you knew mattered in terms of how you were treated. Whilst rules and regulations to manage all aspects of public life existed, a culture of bending or breaking rules emerged, revealing a certain attitude to risk taking in Irish society. Some have attempted to explain this practice with reference to the aforementioned Catholic heritage of forgiving the sinner or to our colonial past where, much in line with the literary parallel of servant-master relations, it was deemed a feather in your cap if you could dupe the master! The past five years have seen a successful modification of Irish attitudes and behaviour in terms of adherence and compliance with rules and regulations. Some examples include the move to a self-administered income tax system with heavy penalties for non-return and failure to meet the time deadline, on the spot fines for breaking speed limits, strict sanctions for breach of drink-driving legislation and the clamping of illegally parked cars. All of these interventions have been introduced to bring about a culture of compliance regarding adherence to rules and regulations in Irish society. This supports Hofstede’s assertion that as societies mature they manage uncertainty better, an evolution we are currently observing in Ireland.
The general parameters of Irish political decision making are shaped by a highly centralised bureaucracy, executive monopoly of legislation and a tightly controlled (political) party system within the context of a personalist political structure (Coakley & Gallagher 1993). The personalist political environment has nurtured a culture of direct contact-clientelism between government ministers, senior administrators and organised representative groups. Keeping a parliamentary seat in the family, so to speak, is also prevalent. It is sometimes the case that the party will invite a member of the family of a deceased deputy to stand in the by-election. Merit does not enter the equation (Guiomard 1995, p.193). Whilst local government plays a minor role in Irish political life, some would argue that the Irish electoral system, which is based on proportional representation ‘gives too much weight to the constituencies rather than the country, paralysing national economic management and postponing economic reform’ (ibid., p.163). Guiomard argues that deputies must put the requirements of their constituency first (ibid., p.106), citing a newspaper column written by one previous Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Dr Garret Fitzgerald, who drew attention to the issue of Cabinet selection:

[…] despite Ireland’s tiny size, a Taoiseach choosing a Cabinet must pay more attention to the geographical spread of Ministers than to their individual suitability for high public office. In a small country, drawing on a small pool of political talent, this is ridiculous. […]

Without representatives elected at a national level, the overall interest can only be of theoretical concern to ‘national’ politicians. (ibid., pp.180f.)
Taoisigh like Fitzgerald and Haughey saw the need for a system in which representatives would also be elected at the national level, much in line with the German practice, although no steps toward a change of procedure have been taken. The attention paid by deputies and Cabinet members to projects in their own constituency may have contributed to the clientelist approach within Irish political life, highlighted by Guiomard:

So public representatives deliver ‘regional policy’ by compelling planes to land in their region. They deliver ‘jobs’ by overstaffing public firms. They deliver ‘public accountability’ by appointing political associates to semi-state boards. (ibid., p.172)1


The current government consists of a coalition between two centre right parties, Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats. The latter grew out of Fianna Fail after a split in the party in 1985. The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, is leader of the Fianna Fail party, the Tanaiste or Deputy Prime Minister is Mary Harney from the Progressive Democrats. No woman has ever served as Taoiseach, unlike the office of President, although the number of women in the Dail rose to 12% in 1991 (Mahon 1995, p.703). In the current Dail the percentage stands at 11.4%. Three women (including the Tanaiste) are members of the Cabinet. The agricultural heritage of the country together with the strong Catholic tradition have ensured the maintenance of an essentially conservative base within politics, which sees even the Labour Party occupying a position which is not far left of centre.
The long history of British rule in Ireland has left a significant legacy in terms of public policies. While Ireland may be an independent nation, a common language and shared tradition of government and administration still encourage Irish policy makers to look to the British experience. Many scholars contend that Ireland displays a distinctly corporatist pattern of group-state relationships, particularly in the economic sphere; indeed, some go so far as to suggest that it displays a closed corporatist pattern of interest representation (Galligan 1998). However, in the future, as part of the EU, Ireland’s policies will increasingly be determined by Europe.

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