World of Work in Northern Ireland

The Big Picture

The Dawn of Globalisation


1955 – 1969

From the early 1950’s into the 1960’s, the local economy went through major changes: losing jobs in traditional industries and gaining jobs through new investments.

It was during this period that farming incomes were supported by the UK system of ‘deficiency payments’ which gave Northern Ireland farmers an advantage over farmers from the Republic of Ireland. 

(Family Farm - BBC NI 1957: An insight into the life of a local farming family during this period)

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However, Northern Ireland continued to face worrying levels of unemployment, particularly in the north west.

At this time, Harland and Wolff was the single largest industrial enterprise in Northern Ireland and shipbuilding continued to be profitable until the early 1960s.

However, as with other UK shipbuilders, it would  face increasing difficulty in securing an adequate order book and production fell leading it to seek government help in 1966 to continue production – leading to partial public ownership.

Alongside H&W, the aerospace company Short Brothers maintained a high tech engineering organisation and elsewhere local expertise in engineering related to textile machinery could be found in Mackie’s, in west Belfast, which served a world-wide market place, and in the Sirocco works.

(The Tonight programme from 1964: A look at the financial uncertainties facing Short Brothers at this time.)

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A feature of the 1960s was the major changes in the textile and clothing industries. 

Northern Ireland became the location for a number of advanced plants making man-made fibres, starting with a large Courtauld’s plant spinning viscose rayon at Carrickfergus.

These plants identified Northern Ireland as a preferred location because of a combination of (then) relatively cheap supplies of electricity, available employees and some elements of Government support on capital costs. 

A continuing concern during this period and into later years was the gradual loss of employment in what was an extensive shirt manufacturing sector centred mainly in Derry City. 

These firms, often employing large numbers of female employees, suffered as competition from lower cost countries displaced local products.

By the late 1960’s a combination of improved commercial links facilitating international trade alongside efforts to reduce obstacles such as high import tariffs and import quotas made lower cost products, often from ‘third world’ countries, more competitive in UK and other EU markets. 

This period could be described as opening the doors for what is now known as greater globalisation of world trade.


  • Interactive Timeline

    economy evolves

    The Northern Ireland economy went through many changes since the end of WWII, with the impact of 'The Troubles' being keenly felt.

  • Employment Sectors

    The Key SectorsUnderstanding Northern Ireland's key business sectors can help you gain an important insight into the strength of our local economy.

  • BBC Resources

    BBC ResourcesLearn more about by accessing some of the many resources available on the BBC and external sites.

  • Interactive Quiz

    Interactive QuizHow much have you learned about the local economy, the key business sectors and the impact of globalisation?

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