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SUMMARY Northern Ireland’s economic performance during the ‘golden age’ was weak. Crafts suggested that rent-seeking was an important determinant of this poor record. This article offers support for such a conclusion. It is suggested that the growth record was shaped by British regulations preventing conflicts of ministerial interest not being made operational until 1963. This institutional divergence tended to promote rent-seeking behaviour, which impeded the pursuit of an industrial policy that could promote economic efficiency. In 1963 the institutional structure and the industrial policy framework changed. These changes stimulated the pursuit of efficiency and contributed to an improved regional economic performance.