1. Introduction

The world of work is experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), a term to describe the chancing world of technology, its impact on work and life and the facilitation of globalisation in trade and services. It was first used by Klaus M Schwab, the founder and executive director of the World Economic Forum (WEF), in an article to contribute to debates of this topic during the 2016 Annual Meeting in Davos. [1]

In his book, Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, defines this era as resulting from the:

Applications of artificial intelligence are spreading due to advances in robotics, nanotechnology and quantum computing.  Our economies are reorganising into distributed peer-to-peer connections across powerful networks – revolutionising how we consume, work and communicate. Enormous possibilities are being created by the confluence of advances in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing. [2]

Carney suggests that 4IR will run from 2018 to, possibly, 2030 or beyond. [3]  He points to how these ideas are in line with previous analysis of the impact of technology on work through the various industrial revolutions, including those of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, JM Keynes. Numerous Nobel Laureates, such as Joseph Stiglitz, [4] Paul Kruger, [5] and Amartya Sen [6] have also focused on the impact of technologies on employment, the growth of globalisation and the inter-connection of global economies.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can summed up as the continuum from steam power, electrical power, through electronics and information technology to digitalisation, robotics, communications technology and artificial intelligence.

2. Ireland and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Ireland was an early participant in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  It was an early location for computer manufacturing, providing high level employment in an emerging sector.  The manufacture and assembly of hardware equipment led to the emergence of indigenous software enterprises and a key business sector which has become a world leader in software design.  In more recent years the major social media companies have selected Ireland as their headquarters for the European, Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

Most of the major tech companies in the world, such as Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Intel, IBM, SAP, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, HubSpot, eBay and PayPal are all located in Ireland. It is estimated by the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) that there are almost 1,000 tech companies in Ireland ranging from the global superpowers to embryonic start-ups. The sector contributed an estimated  €44 billion to the Irish economy in 2020. Incomes in the sector are approximately 50% higher than in the rest of the economy, with some 105,000 employees, [7] while it is estimated that the percentage of the Irish population using the internet on a daily basis in January, 2021 was 91%. [8]

The IDA was set up by the Government in 1949 to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the economy.  It was established in 1969 as a non-commercial semi-State enterprise and this status was under-pinned by the Industrial Development Acts, 1986-2019.  The IDA continues to be the major agency attracting multi-national companies to establish offices and subsidiaries in Ireland. [9]  The Authority made a conscious decision in the 1960s to target newly emerging technology companies, in particular US based companies. However, some of these companies were already showing interest in Ireland as a country for investment, with IBM becoming the first US technology company to set up in Ireland, when it opened its Dublin sales office in 1956.[10]  Since then there has been a steady flow of FDI by technology enterprises. Some key examples of these include:


The opening by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) of its mini-computer manufacturing site in Galway in 1971.  At its peak, this facility employed 1,200.  However, as laptop computers became more affordable and accessible, the demand for mini-computers declined and the factory closed in 1993.  However, DEC continued to operate its software centre. The company was eventually taken over by Hewlett Packard (HP) in 2002 and this software centre has continued to grow and is now the HP European hub for its cybersecurity operations.

HP has had a presence in Ireland since the mid-1970s and it continued to grow during the following thirty years to a workforce of 4,000 in four locations across the country. Its largest campus is in Leixlip, Co Kildare, just west of Dublin, where the company invested some €21 million into an inkjet technology development centre in 2004.  Hundreds more jobs were added to this campus in 2006 when HP expanded its financial services unit there for its EMEA operations.

Another major hardware investment was by Apple, which opened its manufacturing centre to assemble its laptop computers in Cork in 1980, initially employing 60 high-skilled workers. [11]  Ten years later the workforce had grown to 1,000, along with another 500 sub-contracting jobs.  In 2020 there were 6,000 employees on its extensive campus.  The original manufacturing facility has expanded and is now just one part of a range of activities and services that include AppleCare, Operations, Logistics and its European Headquarters. Employees from over 90 nationalities now work on the campus.

Dell Computers set up a manufacturing plant in Limerick in 1990, employing 1,900.  However, with the growing global competition in laptop computers, Dell moved part of its manufacturing jobs to Poland in 2009, but continues to have a presence in Ireland, with its ‘global hub’ for Services, Sales, Operations, Software, Finance and Marketing and manufacturing , employing 2,000 in three locations.


It is estimated that there are some 900 software companies, from the major transnational to small indigenous enterprises, employing approximately 24,000 people and generating €16 billion of exports annually.  Nine out of the ten top global software companies are based in Ireland, which is now one the major research and development global centres in the financial technology sector – much of the financial, banking and insurance software used globally was or is been developed in Ireland. [12]


Some of the major success stories of Irish software development are:

  • Iona Technologies was a spin-off from a technology campus research project in Trinity College, University of Dublin. Iona designed and marketed software that allowed for the connecting of systems and applications by creating a network of services using existing in-house technologies. It was at one point one of the world’s ten largest software-only companies and some thirty new ‘spin-off’ ventures resulted from its work. Iona was sold to Progress Software in 2008 for €139 million. [13]
  • Cubix is a leading mobile app, games and enterprise software development company, with an expertise in development and integrating complex enterprise-level solutions, business intelligence analytics, advanced web and mobile solutions. With over 8 years of experience, the company, employing about 900 workers in Ireland, UK and India, has worked for a range of global clients, including individuals, start-ups and other organisations. [14]
  • SynergySuite, founded in 2011, provides totally integrated solutions for restaurant and hospitality management, bringing together inventory and procurement, recipe management, food safety, staff scheduling and other personnel needs, and accounting into one software platform. This company is now providing its software to clients in Europe and the US. [15]
  • Payslip, a company based in the west of Ireland (Westport, Co Mayo) provides technology for global payroll management to multinational companies around the world. Their software systems automate payroll processes and standardise payroll data, helping transnational companies to centrally manage and control their global payroll operations. [16]
  • Stripe is an online payment companies, established by two brothers from Limerick in the South-West. One of the brothers, Patrick Collison, won the Young Scientist of the Year in 2005 and they went on to develop and sell a number of software packages.  In 2010 they developed Stripe, which has now become a very successful company with a value of €6.5 billion and employs some 4,000 worldwide.  [17]
  • Finally, while not based within the Irish Republic, another Irish software success story in Statsport, which is based in Newry, Northern Ireland. The company is the world leader in tracking and analytic devises for elite sports people that are used extensively by club and national teams in soccer, rugby, GAA sports, etc.  Its Apex GPS trackers, which include gyroscopes and accelerometers, provide competitors and trainers with vital information on performances and is used by sports organisations worldwide.  [18]


Another major technology investment in Ireland is the Intel microprocessor chip manufacturing plant close to the university town of Maynooth, Co Kildare.  Intel opened its operations in 1989 and, since then, it has invested more than €12.5 billion in developing its campus into one of the most technologically advanced manufacturing locations in Europe. Over 4,900 highly skilled employees are employed in the facility. In July, 2021, Intel announced a further expansion with 1,500 construction jobs and, on completion, a further 1,600 permanent jobs


In 1999 the Government privatised the State-owned telecommunication company, Telecom Éireann (now Eir), which opened the Irish market up to competition from major transnational information technology companies. There are now three main service providers providing both landline and mobile networks to the Irish market. The rapid development of mobile and ‘smart’ ‘phone technology also contribute to accelerating the telecommunication sector, with 74% of adults owning a smart ‘phone.  The majority of owners use their ‘phone to access e-mails and visit social media services. [19]

Social media

The use of social media in Ireland has shown a substantial increase in the past ten years since the major social media companies set up their EMEA offices in Dublin.  Facebook established its office in 2008 and has the highest penetration rate (December, 2019) of all social media companies in the Irish population.  By 2020 it is estimated that there were 3.3 million Irish users of Facebook, with the main users in the 25 to 35 years age bracket (25%) and the 35 to 44 year olds (22%).

In the percentage of users, Facebook is followed by other major social media companies, Instagram (43%), LinkedIn (35%) and Twitter (30%).  The percentage of people using social media in Ireland is estimated to have increased from 40% in 2011 to 76% in January, 2021.[20]

Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

The current focus of research and innovation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.  According to Eurostat Ireland has recorded the highest share of enterprises (23%) that used any of the four considered AI applications in 2020. [21] The instillation of high-speed cyber-optic cabling and more powerful semi-conductor micro-chips are providing the tools for industrial, educational and social applications of algorithms for AI, robotic and machine learning.

In the last ten years AI and machine learning are having a huge impact on our lives. Healthcare, security, business, finance and education have experienced the most important changes. [22]

This article also predicts that businesses are already changing how they operate from ‘communicating with customers, through automating workflows and managing network securities’.  The Covid-19 pandemic is speeding up the application of AI, as working-from-home employees need access to reliable and secure high-speed communications.

To facilitate these developments, the Government has published its national strategy which sets out a vision for Ireland as a leading centre in the use of AI through a people-centred and ethical approach to AI adoption and use.

Underpinning our Strategy are three core principles to best embrace the opportunities of AI – adopting a human-centric approach to application of AI; staying open and adaptable to new innovations; and ensuring good governance to build trust and confidence for innovation to flourish, because ultimately if AI is to be truly inclusive and have a positive impact on all of us, we need to be clear on its role in our society and ensure that trust is the ultimate marker of success. [23]

The Government is also backing research, including through the Centre for Applied AI (CeADAR),[24] and Trinity College, University of Dublin, has launched a new artificial intelligence accelerator programme, while the University of Limerick is pioneering new integrated undergraduate and masters’ degrees in partnership with technology and software enterprises, including Stripe, to support new AI based start-ups. [25]

Top technology companies

The investment and involvement of IT companies in the Irish economy has resulted in the four top companies and seven of the top twenty are all major multi-nationals, employing 75,200 (approximately): [26]

Apple Ireland (6,000 employees) 2 Google (7,000)
Microsoft (2,700) 4 Facebook (6,000)
12 Dell Ireland (2,000) 13 Trane Construction Technologies (50,000)
16 Oracle (1,500)

3. Government policies

National Social Partnership Programmes

From 1987 to 2009 a series of Social Partnership programmes were agreed between successive governments, the trade unions, employers organisations and a number of civil society organisations. While, in the early national programmes, very little mention was made of technology and work, it became an increasingly important item for agreement in later programmes.  For example, the Programme for Competitiveness and Work (1994-1996) set out objectives for innovations through research and development and the establishment of  regional technology centres to support industries in introducing relevant technologies.[27] The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (2000-2003) included a major section on the Information Society.  It supported the Governments strategy, as set out in its Action Plan of Implementing the Information Society in Ireland, including the importance of education and a ‘learning society’. [28]  Finally, the last social partnership agreement – Towards 2016 (2006-2015) included a key Section 3 Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation setting out key objectives over the ten-year framework agreement. [29]

Programme for Government 2020

Government policies continued to build on the progress made during the era of Social Partnership agreements and following the inconclusive outcome of the 2020 General Election, three parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Irish Green Party, negotiated a Programme for Government, which included a section on a National Digital Strategy, which included:

  • Increasingthe level of national connectivity, particularly in rural communities,through the implementation of the National Broadband Plan, which was launched in 2019
  • Continue the digital transformation of Public Services, including a greater integration of digital services.
  • Further develop Ireland’s leadership in new digital technologies, including
  • Cloudcomputing,
  • Dataanalytics,
  • Blockchain,
  • Internet of Things
  • Artificial Intelligence.
  • Direct the Office of Government Procurement to support the adoption of new technologies through the development of new public service frameworks.
  • Explore how Ireland can be at the forefront of protecting citizens’ rights with respect to facial recognition technology, access to encryption tools, and net neutrality.

This National Digital Strategy builds on the work of previous governmental strategies over many decades, through the relevant State companies and agencies and through educational policies, such as:

The role of Enterprise Ireland to assist Irish based and indigenous enterprises to develop new export markets.  It is a State agency, which was established by the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998. It provides funding, advise and introductions in key international markets.  It funds perspective exporters to participate in trade shows and business events in key export markets. Enterprise Ireland took over the functions of thirty-five County and City Enterprise Boards, that were set up to promote economic development, to stimulate entrepreneurship and SMEs.[30]  Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) were set up to support the work of Enterprise Ireland at local levels. There is a LEO in each local authority area with dedicated teams offering a wide range of experience, skills, services and funding.  LEOs also promote enterprise and entrepreneurship and foster a culture of enterprise. These offices provide key supports for digitalisation of SMEs and up-skilling of workers. [31]

Indeed, for the past five years Enterprise Ireland and the IDA have collaborated on and jointly sponsored market-focused strategic research and development carried out through a network of ten technology centres that allow Irish companies and multinationals to work together on R&D projects in collaboration with national research institutions. The technology centres span a range of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, food, manufacturing, microelectronics and composite materials and have access to the expertise of highly qualified researchers based in the universities and the Institutes of Technology. [32]

Education – Institutes of Technology and Technology Universities

To provide the skilled workforce for this rapidly development of the digital economy, the Government, first, focused on the provision of high qualified graduates from third-level education centres.  In the 1960s fourteen Institutes of Technology were established following a Government report Training of Technicians in Ireland (1964), which identified significant skill gaps, including:

…a serious difficulty in the task of raising the standards of technicians in Ireland is the lack of a nationally recognised technician diploma. The absence of such a diploma deters many parents from considering sub-professional technician careers for their children.

This was followed by the setting up of the Steering Committee on Technical Education.  Its report (The Mulcahy Report (1967)), was an important milestone in framing the institutional structures and functions for technology education and the establishment of new Institutes of Technology. [33]

The Institutes of Technology have proved, over the past fifty years, to be extremely successful and, recognising this, within the past two years the Government has merged a number of these institutions to establish Technology Universities, with more to follow.[34]

To support these developments and to co-ordinate third-level education across all universities and institutes, a new Government ministry was established following the 2020 general election, the Dept of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)

SCI was set up in 2000 to administer the Government’s €646 million Technology Foresight Fund and was put on a statutory basis in 2002.  It provides awards to support scientists and engineers working in the fields of science and engineering that underpin biotechnology, information and communications technology, sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies.

SFI invests in academic researchers and research teams who are most likely to generate new knowledge, leading edge technologies and competitive enterprises in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Links are provided to grant and funding opportunities for STEM research. Proposals are evaluated in open competitions by a combination of international peer reviews and that they strategically  fit with the SFI’s objectives.

One of these programmes is the Strategic Partnership Programme, which supports research initiatives with strong potential for delivering economic and societal impacts. Since 2013, twenty-eight projects addressing challenges in areas such as healthcare, climate change and financial services have benefitted from €40 million in funding under the programme

Another support programme is the Frontiers for the Future 2021 which, in particular, supports top talent and excellent research themes. This programme will enable SFI to deliver on its target to provide grants to support 140 individual-led research projects and to work closely with and support the new Technological Universities and the remaining Institutes of Technology.

In March 2021, the SFI set out its objectives to 2025, which include:

  • Increasing SFI individual-led research awards to 140 annually
  • Attracting 20 world-leading researchers to Ireland every year (the current number is two to three annually)
  • Increasing “women leaders” in research to 35 per cent
  • Having 65 per cent of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers departing to positions outside academia after six years.

Skillnet Ireland

Skillnet Ireland is a business support agency of the Government dedicated to workforce development and with a mandate to support the competitiveness, productivity and innovation of Irish businesses through enterprise-led skills development to ensure a highly skilled workforce and that businesses have the available skills they need for competitiveness in their relevant markets. This is delivered through a number of skill training programmes, such as the Digital Skills Accelerator and the Future in Tech Academy.

Skillnet supports over 21,000 businesses nationwide and provides a range of valuable learning experiences to over 81,000 trainees with training and upskilling which enhances their career mobility. Skillnet operates a joint investment model, where Government grants are combined with contributions from enterprises, thus reducing costs and other barriers for businesses.  Having a key role for enterprises ensures that the training programmes are relevant to the needs of industry. This approach also enables cohesive enterprise networking and the flexibility to respond to ever-changing skills demands through both formal and informal learning.  Skillnet is supported by the trade union movement and local and national levels.

National Recovery Plan 2021

In July 2020 the European Council adopted a historic €750 billion recovery package
for Member States. [35] To draw down funds from this initiative, each country was required to draft a national recovery plan, outlining how it would invest the funds allocated to it.

In its plan, the Irish Government set out three key priorities – Priority 2 committed to

Accelerating and Expanding Digital Reforms and Transformation with six key investments, totalling €291 million as follows:

  • Development of a Shared Government Data Centre to support digitalisation of Government services through delivery of high-quality Data Centre facilities;
  • Programme to Drive Digital Transformation of Enterprise in Ireland through the introduction of a new grants scheme for businesses to support digitalisation and the establishment of European Digital Innovation Hubs in Ireland;
  • A Programme to Provide Digital Infrastructure and Funding to Schools will see high speed broadband connectivity provided to over 1,100 primary schools and grants provided for schools to purchase ICT infrastructure;
  • Provision of an Online Response Option for the Census of Population as part of Census 2026 which could also be used for other CSO and Government surveys;
  • Using 5G technologies to Drive a Greener More Innovative Ireland will see Government use 5G technology to enhance connectivity and service provision;
  • Roll out of a number of eHealth initiatives including community eHealth solutions, investment in ePharmacy and in an integrated financial management system as part of wider health system reform. [36]

European Commission Covid-19 Stimulus Fund

Following the assessment of the National Recovery Plan by the European Commission, Ireland has been allocated just under €1 billion from this fund, which was adopted by the ECOFIN Council on 13 July, 2021.  Of this, Ireland is allocating 32% (€293 million) to different aspects of the digitalisation, such as:

  • Further improvements in the digitalisation of public administration and services (€105 million)
  • €85m to go to the digital transformation of Irish enterprises
  • €64m for the funding of connectivity and ICT devices in schools
  • €39m to the development of a shared Government data centre.

Key digital reforms will include addressing the ‘digital divide’, by ensuring that all those in education develop the skills to engage in the digital economy and take advantage of the digital transition.  On the topic of social and economic resilience, there is €114m for reskilling and upskilling workers in the labour market – something seen as key in the effort to get people back to work after the Covid-19 pandemic. [37]

3. Security

With so many technology companies locating their EMEA Headquarters and other facilities in Ireland, in particular software and social media companies, and with the enactment of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Regulation 2016/679, the role of the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) has taken on a particular importance within the EU and in the ‘policing’ of the electronic sectors.

The DPC was set up under the Data Protection Act, 2018, which also transposed the GDPR into Irish law, but it also works within the framework of earlier data protection legislation, the Data Protection Acts, 1988-2003. It is the national independent authority responsible for upholding the rights of EU citizens to have their personal data protected and it is the supervisory national authority responsible for monitoring the application of the GDPR.  This includes the Law Enforcement Directive (LED), EU Directive 2016/680, which was enacted in parallel to the GDPR.

The DPC also has statutory powers related to other regulatory frameworks, including the  ePrivacy Regulations (2011) which transposed the ePrivacy Directive 2002/58/EC (as amended by Directive 2006/24/EC and 2009/136/EC) into Irish law.  This legislation covers  any personal  data transmitted by electronic communications (including, amongst other things, unsolicited electronic communications made by phone, e-mail, and texts). [38]

The European functions of the DPC include supporting the work of the following EU bodies:

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) is an independent European body, which contributes to the consistent application of data protection rules throughout the EU and promotes co-operation between the EU’s data protection authorities, which include: 

  • The Customs Information System (CIS) Supervision Co-ordination Group and the Customs Joint Supervisory Authority supervise data processed within the CIS to ensure compliance with data protection legislation
  • Europol Co-operation Board (ECB) is designated as the supervisor of personal data processing since 1 May 2017. The EDPS cooperates closely with national supervisory authorities through the ECB
  • The Co-ordinated Supervision Committee (CSC) is a group comprised of national data protection supervisory authorities and the EDPS. The CSC was established within the framework of the European Data Protection Board to ensure co-ordinated supervision of certain large scale IT systems and EU bodies, offices and agencies.

The EURODAC Supervision Co-ordination Group ensures that the sharing of personal data relating to asylum seekers between EU countries takes place in a manner that respects data protection rights.

The Schengen (SIS II) Supervision Co-ordination Group ensures that personal data within the European Schengen Information System is processed in a manner that respects privacy rights. [39]

Another key organisation in IT security is the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which was set up in 2011 as an office within the Department (Ministry) of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC). This Centre is responsible for advising Government IT and critical national IT infrastructure providers of current threats and vulnerabilities associated with network information security. It is mainly focused on the cyber security of Government networks and the security of the national infrastructure. The role of the NCSC includes the National/Governmental Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT-IE).  [40]

In May 2021 a ransom attack on the national health service, the Health Services Executive (HSE) brought the need for regulation and supervision of data into sharp focus.  This cyber-crime and breach of data protection was the most significant digital attack on the Irish State.  It caused all of the HSE IT systems nationwide to shut down, crippling the health services at a critical time in the battle against Covid-19.  The attack has had a significant impact on hospital appointments across the country, with many appointments cancelled, including all outpatient and radiology services and the postponement of scheduled medical procedures.

Security researchers believe this attack was carried out by a Russian based cybercriminal group known as Wizard Spider. In a ransom note posted online, the group threatened to publish the health network’s stolen data, unless a ransom of $20 million was paid. Having refused to pay, the HSE confirmed that confidential medical information for 520 patients, as well as sensitive corporate documents, were later published online, on the ‘dark-web’.

It is estimated that the HSE has had to replace some 30,000 laptops and that the estimated cost of restoring all its IT systems is €500 million.  By early July 2021, the HSE had ‘decrypted’ about 80% of its servers and some 79% of its computer devises.

The DPC and the NCSC were notified immediately after the cyber-attack and both organisations have been central to the investigation.

4. Technology and Work – Social Dialogue

In the Irish context, studies on the impact of technologies on work have been undertaken within the trade unions and employers’ organisations and there is general agreement that an all-Ireland tripartite approach is needed and, indeed, has been the norm in recent decades.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI) has undertaken a number of research studies under the overall title of Employment and the Future of Work, including the effects of automation and the green transition on employment between the financial crisis in 2008-2009 and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, looking at aspects of new technology and work in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. [41] The NERI 7th Annual Labour Market Conference, held in Magee College, Ulster University, Derry, May 2019, specifically focused on different aspects of the future of work and new technology.[42]

In analysing the future of work in the digital age, the former Director of NERI, Dr Tom Healy, speculated on the impact of the speed of change – what will the next thirty years bring?

For sure, rapid changes in technology will continue to transform the way we live and the manner in which business trade and communicate. New and faster connections facilitate a rapid exchange of information as well as a consolidation of huge stores of data that transcend national boundaries and regulations. Real-time technology has transformed the way public and private services are delivered.  These changes have transformed globalisation and trade and have impacted on the structure of demand for skills and knowledge. [43]

For the employers’ organisation, Technology Ireland is an sectoral association within the Irish Business and Employers’ Association (IBEC). It is mainly a sectoral lobby group for the technology companies and enterprises in Ireland.  However, in 2020 it published Future Needs, Future Thinking which sets out four pillars to shape the future and puts forward a vision for the Technology Sector in Ireland:

  • Education and skills
  • Competitiveness and constraints
  • Supporting Digitalisation across Ireland and Managing and Protecting Data
  • Taxation Policy and Investment Support.

It captures the key policy priorities of the sector together with several recommendations, to secure a healthy ecosystem for the sector and enable it to continue to contribute to Ireland’s success. The digitally intensive sector now directly employs over 210,000 people.  [44]

5. To conclude

Over more than six decades the Government of Ireland and its agencies have identified the electronic, digitalisation and automation developments as essential for the economic and employment needs of Ireland. All arms of government are directed towards this objective, through the educational and research institutions and through the specialist State agencies for business support and FDI agencies.

This approach has been fully supported by industry and business organisations, by the trade union movement and by civil society and has resulted in the provision of high-skilled employment and successful Irish spin-off global enterprises in hardware, software and, more recently, automation and robotics development.  However, while working within the EU framework, the challenges for the future as a small open economy exposed to the challenges of international trade are to ensure continued indigenous research and development which will lead to new technologies and new employment opportunities in the Irish workplace. To do this the pool of high-skilled researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs has to be maintained and the replacement of jobs overtaken by automation, AI, robotics and globalisation have to be constantly reviewed and addressed.  These challenges can be summed up as follows:

Huge changes in manufacturing, outsourcing, off-shoring and the rise of borderless companies transferring activities across frontiers and booking their profits and tax bills in different locations have greatly complicated the nature of production and political control.  Globalisation in trade, finance and knowledge has had mixed effects.  In some cases it has transformed for the better living standards and conditions of education and health for large populations.  In other cases it has triggered rising inequalities, displacement of workers, impoverishment of particular regions and countries as well as causing long-term environmental damage. [45]

Kevin P O’Kelly

July 2021

[1] See Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution Foreign Affairs, New York, December 2015
See also:
[2]  See Value(s): Building a better world for all M Carney, William Collins Books, London, 2021: page 2 and endnote p 531
3 Carney ibid; pages 454 and 461. He lists the periods of the three previous industrial revolutions as approximately: 1IR was from the mid-1700s to 1840; 2IR from 1871 to 1914; 3IR from 1950s to early 21st century (see also
[4] Making Globalization Work J Stiglitz, Allen Lane (London) 2006, pages 56-59
[5] See video masterclass by Prof Krugman:
[6] Employment, technology and development: A study prepared for the ILO within the framework of the World Employment Programme International Labour Review, Vol 152, (Geneva) January 2013.
[7]  See Future Needs, Future Thinking 2021 Technology Ireland,
[9]  See  and
[10]  See  The Swedish technology company, Ericsson, quickly followed in 1957
[11] The author attended the opening of the Apple plant in Cork by the Minister for Labour, Gene Fitzgerald TD in December, 1980.  Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple also participated in the opening ceremony.
[18]  See also Irish Times article Irish companies play to win in competitive sports tech arena  page 19, 15 July 2021. Another new sports software enterprise, Karios, is also based in Northern Ireland, in Belfast, provides solutions for sports planning for elite teams and athletes, including the tracking of training sessions, meetings with physios and medical appointments, etc.
[21]  The four AI applications used by Eurostat are: a) Machine learning to analyse big data internally; b) A chat service, where a chatbot or virtual agent generated natural language replies to customers; c) Use of service robots, which are characterised with some degree of autonomy, for example to carry out cleaning, dangerous or repetitive tasks such as cleaning up poisonous substances, sorting items in the warehouse, helping customers in shopping or at payment points etc.; d) use of natural language processing, natural language generation or speech recognition
[22] Alessia Paccagnini, Smurfit Business School, University College, Dublin, in an article by Sandra O’Connell, Irish Times, 23 July 2021:
Foreword to the National AI Strategy, July 2021, by Robert Troy TD, Minister of State responsible for Trade Promotion
[25] O’Connell, Irish Times, op cit
[26] Top 1000 Companies Irish Times, June 2021.
[27] Programme for Competitiveness and Work  Government Publications, February 1994, page 14
[28] See
[29] This Social Partnership Agreement was terminated by the Government in 2009 as a result of the challenges to the economy by the global financial and economic crisis.
[32] See Irish Times report, 19 February 2019 at
[33] See
[34] Three Institutes of Technology were merged on 1 January 2019, to form Technology University, Dublin, (TUD), while two further Institutes merged to form the Munster Technology University (MTU) (January 2021). See also:
[36] Ireland’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan Europe’s Contribution to Ireland’s Recovery Government of Ireland, October 2020 (updates June 2021). See
[39] ibid
[40] In the aftermath of the ransom attack on the HSE IT systems, it is widely agreed that the NCSC has been understaffed and underfunded for many years The high level of expertise and experience required, and the levels of Public Service remuneration on offer in comparison to that available in the private sector, makes it extremely difficult to recruit and retain staff for this office.
[41] ICTU is an all-island trade union confederation and NERI also operates on an all-island basis.
[43] An Ireland Worth Working For – Towards a new democratic programme T Healy, New Island Books, 2019, p74
[44] See,-future-thinking-2020-04-11-2019/$file/TI+Future+Needs,+Future+Thinking.pdf
[45]  Healy op. cit. P 75