Introduction: 50 Years of Social Research at the ESRI

Helen Russell, Emer Smyth


In 1966, the Economic Research Institute became the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). The then Minister for Education, George Colley, framed this decision ‘as a most important initial step in providing for our society a scientific knowledge of ourselves’. In the 50 years that followed, social research in the ESRI has led new thinking on critical social issues in Ireland, developing new ways of measuring poverty, deprivation and quality of life, establishing a model to assess the distributional impact of tax and welfare policies, and tracking the experiences and outcomes of young people as they move through the educational system. ESRI research has played a critical role in understanding the persistence of inequalities on the basis of social background and gender while highlighting the situation of groups often previously neglected in Irish social research, including children and adults with disabilities and Travellers. For most of this period, social research at the ESRI was underpinned by a dedicated survey unit, which used cutting-edge techniques in sampling and questionnaire design to provide a high quality evidence base to inform policy. Social research at the ESRI played an important role not only in the Irish policy arena but on the European stage, with ESRI researchers contributing to a number of large-scale European projects and the collection of data such as the European Social Survey and the European Union Survey of Income and Living Conditions.


ESRI; social research; Ireland

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