Sir George Quigley


The sudden death at 83 of Sir George Quigley is a reminder of the underappreciated value of the really top class civil servant.  No faceless bureaucrat during the long years of Direct Rule at the department of finance and elsewhere, he had an equally beneficial afterlife in the public and private sectors, serving among other posts  as chairman of the Ulster Bank and Bombardier locally. Personally he was a warm hearted and easy communicator and a liberal minded Presbyterian who had no difficulty thinking outside traditional boxes.  Unlike most of his peers, George didn’t hesitate to get involved in the much neglected creative side of small p politics, especially but by no means exclusively on the economy.

In retirement along with Ken Bloomfield, he set a standard for constructive debate and policy making from which politicians fall so far short. The all island dimension held no terrors for him, rather the contrary. He was leading exponent of economic reform and the need to create a new skills base for high value industry. He was the leading campaigner for low corporation tax. He didn’t shrink from making and attracting criticism over the state of politics. His complex recommendations for managing parades were rejected. As chairman of Irish- British Studies who can argue with the verdict he gave less than two years ago  on the “unfinished”political prospects?

That word ‘Unfinished’ is crucial. It chimes well with the stark paragraph withwhich Professor Thomas Bartlett concludes his magisterial Ireland, published in2010. Having made the point that ‘Overall, …. Catholics …. generally havevastly improved their position in the Northern Ireland state’, he goes on: ‘Onthe other hand, there remains a very large loyalist underclass, poorlyeducated, mostly unskilled and socially disadvantaged who harbour a belief thattheir position in Northern Ireland had drastically slipped, and that theirculture is no longer valued …. While such a large reservoir of hatred, rancourand resentment remains in Northern Ireland, it is hard to feel optimistic.Equally, because the devolved structures were expressly designed to reflect andperpetuate the sectarianism that was at the heart of the Northern Irelandstate, it is only possible to feel a sort of nervous confidence .

..barring a sharp discontinuity, it seems likely that, for a considerable time to come, across the board, though with notable exceptions, our electoral process will in effect reflect an ethnic carve up, reinforce the phenomenon of identity politics, and play to the zero – sum tune

Right up to the end in his eighties, the shortcomings of the Assembly did not dishearten George Quigley. He was a paradigm of practical idealism and expertise who leaves a yawning gap in the public life of Northern Ireland

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  • seamusot

    I had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman in his capacity as Chairman of Ulster Bank. Always engaging and courteous. Ar dheis go raibh a anam uasal.

  • Greenflag

    Sad news .Sir George had his finger firmly on the pulse of Northern Ireland’s economy and indeed the economy of the whole island . I may be presumptous in suggesting that Sir George Quigley was in an economic sense a follower of Ken Whitaker & Sean Lemass who in the Republic in the late 1950’s were to set the Republic on a long trend of economic growth which despite some ups and downs nevertheless has changed people’s lives dramatically for the better since the 1950’s .

    Sir George understood that only from export led growth could Northern Ireland achieve ‘Celtic Tiger’ levels of job creation and higher skilled opportunities for it’s people .The public sector while important cannot be the long term driver of the Irish /Northern Ireland or indeed any other economy .

    Sean Lemass & Ken Whitaker realised that in the Republic almost 60 years ago . Although Northern Ireland at the time was tied in to the growing post war UK economy the Republic was virtually a closed shop in terms of inward investment .The economy had developed as far as it could given the policy restraints of the time .Those restraints were every bit as stringent then for the Republic as current ones are for Northern Ireland as it struggles and continually seems to fail to pull itself away from an ultimately defeatist reliance on the public sector .Part of this is of course politically determined by the munificence of Westminster financial support .

    The ‘old Republican guard ‘ in the then FF did not welcome Lemass & Whitaker’s change of direction . But we can look back now and state that not only were they correct in their then assessment of the then moribund Irish economy but changed the dynamics for export led growth which has since permeated throughout the economy .

    Could it have been done without ‘foreign capital ‘ and technological expertise ? Yes . But as George Colley put it back then it would have taken 150 years by which time given the then rate of emigration from Dev’s ‘Ireland ‘ there would have been few people left to govern and those who remained would have had much reduced living standards .

    Northern Ireland’s politicians of all parties should not just have listened or read to Sir George Quigley’s reports but should have acted on them -decades ago !