Ireland became a full member of the European Economic Community (EEC) in January 1973. A general election in the spring of that year returned a Fine Gael-Labour coalition led by Liam Cosgrave, son of W. T. Cosgrave, which oversaw a substantial extension of government-funded welfare programmes designed to bring Ireland into line with other EEC member states. 1973 also marked the end of a long post-war economic boom; there was a sharp rise in unemployment and inflation. The difficult economic circumstances brought a new era of volatile politics. In 1977 Jack Lynch was returned to office with a landslide electoral victory; he resigned in 1979 and was succeeded by Charles Haughey.

When the Northern Ireland crisis erupted in 1969, no government department had formal responsibility for Northern Ireland. 1970 saw the creation of the Anglo-Irish Division in the Department of External (Foreign) Affairs, which worked closely with the Department of the Taoiseach on all policies relating to Northern Ireland. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave led the Irish delegation in the 1973 discussions that led to the Sunningdale agreement. Although short-lived, it anticipated the framework that was followed by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Jack Lynch signs the treaty of accession to the EEC in January 1972 © Irish Times

Above: Jack Lynch signs the treaty of accession to the EEC in January 1972