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.”


  • páid

    Interesting article on an interesting man, the modern-day republic owes a lot to TK. Nice to know that he understood the western clearout of the 1950s and did something about it.

    Could have just drawn his salary and strolled Dublin.

    Though Finance was, and is, home of the brainier type of Civil Servant.

  • CS Parnell

    Of course, Sinn Fein are still, essentially, advocates of the Griffith policy and seem oblivious to the disaster it invoked upon the people of Ireland.

    Yes, let’s mark Whittaker’s successes. But let’s also mark the tragedy of republican (in the Griffith sense) rule – the loss of the nation’s youth, hopes and language.

    The first two have recovered. The third never will.

  • J McConnell

    One subject that is glossed over in the story of the Programme for Economic Expansion was the real reason for Fianna Fail abandoning what had been the foundation of all their political policies for the previous 30 years. The government in the late 50’s were presented with a very simple choice – if they continued with the economic policies that they had put in place in the early ’30’s, policies which had destroyed the economy and caused the biggest mass emigration since the 1840’s, the country would be facing complete demographic collapse within 10 years.

    The choice presented by various Dept of Finance projections were stark in their simplicity – abandoned the current gombeen economic policies of Fianna Fails ‘sein fein’ politics and embrace Free Trade, or the ROI ceases to be a functioning modern state by the late 1960’s. When presented in these terms FF quickly abandoned their dearest principals (again). Power over principals was always their motto..

    They then devoted all their energies over the next ten years trying to change the constitution so that they would never lose another general election. That failed too..

  • Jimmy

    Ken Whitaker is a bit of a ledge, first heard about him through my grandad and then in Honours leaving cert history, rightly deserves to be lauded as do the rest of the guys who worked on the paper and in the dept.

  • Mark Whittaker

    The future King of Ireland!