In EU Policy


Year: 2017
Published in: ICSEM Project
Cited as: O’Hara, P. & O’Shaughnessy, M. (2017) “Social Enterprise in Ireland: WISE, the Dominant Model of Irish Social Enterprise”, No. 41.


What is termed the social economy in Ireland includes charities, co-operatives, voluntary associations and non-profits. However, the label is not widely used to describe them collectively, so that many organisations within the wider social economy do not identify themselves with, or even fully understand, the term. Since it first emerged in public policy discourse, in the 1990s, the concept of social enterprise has been mainly viewed as a mechanism of job creation/integration and service provision in disadvantaged communities. This perspective has been significantly influenced by European policy. In contrast, the interpretation of social enterprise in Irish academic discourse is more varied. This can be attributed to the influence of the US and European academic traditions. In all, these variations have contributed to an ambiguous national understanding of the social economy as a sector and social enterprises as distinctive entities, which in turn has compromised attempts to estimate the scale and potential of the sector in Ireland to date.
As part of the policy response to the unemployment crisis of the economic recession, the Irish government commissioned an examination of the job-creation potential of social enterprise. The Forfás2 report, published in 2013, offered a new official definition of social enterprise, characterised by many of the features of the EMES ideal type. Furthermore, the description and examples of social enterprises presented in this report confirmed the dominance of one model of social enterprise in Ireland—the work integration social enterprise, or WISE.