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. The concept of social enterprise first emerged in public policy discourse in the 1990s and, since then, has been mainly viewed as a mechanism of job creation/integration and service provision in disadvantaged communities. This perspective on social enterprise has been significantly influenced by European policy. By contrast, in Irish academic discourse, the interpretation of social enterprise is more varied due to the different influences of the US and European intellectual traditions. These variations have contributed to ambiguity about the social economy as a sector, and social enterprises as distinctive forms, and this has compromised attempts to estimate the scale and potential of the sector in Ireland to date. In 2013, 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 Forfás report 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 included in the report confirmed the dominance of one model of social enterprise in Ireland – the Work Integration Social Enterprise or WISE. The objective of this paper is to discuss how social economy and social enterprise are understood in Ireland and to explain how WISEs have evolved as the dominant Irish social enterprise model to date. The influence of the US (Salamon and Anheier 1997; Dees 1998) and European/EMES academic traditions (Pestoff 1998; Borzaga and Defourny 2001; Nyssens 2006; Defourny and Nyssens 2010, 2012) and EU and national policy perspectives, since the early 1990s, on Irish academic and policy discourse is discussed in this paper. It is argued that the adoption by successive Irish governments of a labour market integration approach, to supporting the development of the Irish social economy, since the early 1990s, has shaped the sector and contributed to the emergence of one dominant social enterprise type, the WISE. Some of the characteristics and impacts of Irish WISE are then discussed together with the challenges they face.