TK Whittaker and Irish economic expansion

The Irish Times today celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the accession of TK Whittaker to the humble civil service post of secretary to the Department of Finance. Marc Colman charts Whittaker’s crucial role (subs needed) in developing, inputting and ultimately actioning key intellectual capital into a state that, economically, was going backwards. As Colman argues, possibly without exaggeration that if the Rising made the Republic’s independence possible, this unassuming Co Down man made it viable.Whittaker sets the context for his arrival in the Dublin of the thirties:

“In 1950s Ireland there was a sort of fatalism and nobody had faced the problem of discarding what we had inherited from the earlier days of Arthur Griffith. He was the great proponent of self-sufficiency. He had got all these ideas from the German economist and philosopher Friedrich List and he thought he had seen it work in Hungary. But it was an economic idea of independence – side by side with the political idea of independence – that imbued the main political parties from the 1890s.”

He goes on:

“It was clear to us from the beginning that with the policy of Sinn Féin, of self-sufficiency, of excluding foreign participation in industry, trying to keep everything under Irish control, that we were never going to achieve anything. We were already engaged with colleagues – off our own bat, nobody asked us to do anything – but we decided we had to do something because the situation was so bad. I got a couple of people who were close to me to work on that – Charlie Murray, and some of the younger people in my own department, Maurice Doyle and Tom Coffey and others – and said ‘I’m preparing this, would you like to help?’. They did. It was really a work of collaboration. The result was a revolutionary document entitled Economic Development.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty