Employment in foreign-owned multinationals jumps 60% since 2010

Report assesses characteristics of employment in small and big firms in Republic

The number of Irish workers employed in large foreign-owned multinationals has jumped by two-thirds in a decade, a study has found.

The report, published by the Department of Finance on Tuesday, analysed the characteristics of employment in companies of different sizes in the Republic and how this has changed over time.

“Alongside this growth in employment in foreign-owned firms, there is evidence of a growing productivity gap between indigenous SMEs and multinational enterprises,” the report noted.

“ In response, a renewed focus of Government policy is to develop and increase the productivity of SMEs.”


In the budget on Tuesday, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe announced the establishment of a group comprised of representatives from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation; Enterprise Ireland; the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF); the European Investment Bank; and the European Investment Fund to report by mid-November with "proposals to leverage European capital and establish an equity fund with a mandate to invest in domestic, high innovation enterprises".

The Government will provide an initial €30 million in funding through ISIF to support an “appropriate and effective scheme”, he added.

The department’s analysis found that employment in foreign-owned agency-assisted companies in the State increased from 144,815 in 2010 to 235,245 in 2019, reflecting the surge of foreign direct investment (FDI) into Ireland since the 2008 financial crisis.

The report noted that these companies tended to be big, with more than 500 employees, and operate in the manufacturing, information technology and financial services sectors of the economy.

Micro enterprises

This was in contrast to the retail and wholesale, accommodation and food, and construction sectors, which tended to be dominated by micro enterprises with 10 or fewer employees.

The report found that while the majority of workers here are employed in small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) with 50 or fewer employees, their share of employment had decreased from 57.6 per cent in 2002 to 52.6 per cent in 2017. Over the same period, the share of employment in companies with more than 500 employees increased from 10.7 per cent to 15.3 per cent.

The profile of employees in large companies was also different, with 55 per cent classified as managerial and/or professional compared to 30 per cent in micro enterprises.

However, the report noted that managerial and professional occupations became more common across all enterprises since 2002.

The educational attainment of all employees in the Irish economy has increased.

There remained a considerable gap between the largest and smallest firms in 2017, however, with 61.7 per cent of employees in companies with more than 500 staff having attained a bachelor’s degree or above, versus 27.4 per cent in micro enterprises. This gap has not narrowed over time, it said.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times