Hum­ble pen­cils trans­formed Ire­land’s post-war economy

Irish Examiner - County - - News - Áilín Quin­lan

Co Cork played a sig­nif­i­cant — but ne­glected role — in trans­form­ing Ire­land’s eco­nomic des­tiny ac­cord­ing to a new book which ar­gues that German in­dus­trial in­vest­ment was a crit­i­cal cat­a­lyst to this coun­try’s later suc­cess.

Although these days, great em­pha­sis is placed on the im­por­tance of on­go­ing in­vest­ment by US firms in Ire­land, the new book, to be launched at UCC to­mor­row by the German Am­bas­sador Deike Potzel, ar­gues that it was ac­tu­ally the es­tab­lish­ment of a pen­cil and biro man­u­fac­turer in Fer­moy sev­eral decades ago, which kick­started the turn­around in Ir­ish for­tunes and Ire­land’s move to join Europe.

“W Faber-Castell Ltd from Stein, Nurem­berg, worked with the Fer­moy Pro­gres­sive As­so­ci­a­tion to set up its first over­seas plan af­ter 1952.

“The lessons learned by the Ir­ish author­i­ties in this first ma­jor post-war in­dus­trial in­vest­ment were trans­for­ma­tive,” said au­thor and Dun­man­way-born his­to­rian Dr Mervyn O’Driscoll.

He is an As­so­ciate Dean of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies at the Col­lege Col­lege of Arts, Celtic Stud­ies and So­cial Sci­ences and Co­or­di­na­tor for the MA in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and in His­tory at the UCC School of His­tory.

“In the 1950s Ire­land was in the throes of eco­nomic de­pres­sion and 400,000 em­i­grated over the decade.

“Who would guess that it was the es­tab­lish­ment of a by this German pen­cil and biro man­u­fac­turer in Fer­moy which set the tone for the turn­around in Ir­ish for­tunes and Ire­land’s move to join Europe?”

The author­i­ties learned much from this ma­jor post­war in­dus­trial in­vest­ment: “Faber-Castell was able to ac­cess the Bri­tish Com­mon­wealth mar­kets en­sur­ing the branch was prof­itable. The pi­o­neer­ing of fi­nan­cial and cor­po­ra­tion tax in­cen­tives be­gan.”

The West German eco­nomic mir­a­cle and German in­dus­trial in­vest­ment now came to be seen as Ire­land’s life­jacket as the Bri­tish economy stag­nated in the late 1950s and 1960s, Dr O’Driscoll noted.

“Ac­cess to the EEC to guar­an­tee links with the German in­vest­ment and mar­kets was a more at­trac­tive prospect. The gov­ern­ment of Chan­cel­lor Kon­rad Ade­nauer be­gan to view Ire­land as an in­vest­ment lo­ca­tion for firms seek­ing to ex­pand.

“It of­fered a busi­ness­friendly en­vi­ron­ment, plen­ti­ful labour and lower costs to cool the over­heat­ing German economy. By the late 1950s, German in­vest­ment fre­quently out­paced Amer­i­can in­vest­ment in Ire­land and the trend con­tin­ued in the 1960’s.

“German firms sprung up in towns and vil­lages all over the coun­try sup­ported by the IDA.

“This vi­tal con­tri­bu­tion to Ire­land’s mod­erni­sa­tion is now per­versely for­got­ten, but the German op­por­tu­nity birthed con­tem­po­rary Ire­plant land’s economy and so­ci­ety, and opened up the Euro­pean path­way for Ire­land chang­ing its iden­tity.”

Iron­i­cally, US in­vest­ment did not pre­dom­i­nate in Ire­land until af­ter 1990 and with the de­vel­op­ment of the Sin­gle Euro­pean Mar­ket, Dr O’Driscoll said: “As late as the 1980s, Charles J Haughey was pin­ning Ire­land’s eco­nomic fu­ture on German in­vest­ment and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Iron­i­cally, it was the hum­ble pen­cils man­u­fac­tured in Fer­moy af­ter 1955 and 1956 by Faber-Castell that trans­formed mod­ern Ire­land.”

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