The strength of positive feeling towards the economist TK Whitaker in the Irish press was extraordinary. I want to come back to that later in the week, since there may still be important lessons to draw on from the manner in which he approached matters.
But, in the context of this election to nowhere we’re enduring right now, this snippet from Eoghan Harris on Whitaker’s background role with the Irish government at the outbreak of the Troubles is worth putting into the Slugger record:
One of the most dramatic episodes was in the aftermath of Lynch’s ‘Stand By’ speech of August 1969. Its inflammatory tone was dictated by Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney at the Cabinet table and merely led to an intensification of the riots in Derry.
Desperate for help, Lynch couldn’t contact Whitaker, who was on holidays in Carna in Connemara, and got the gardai to track him down with an urgent message to call him.
The gardai found Whitaker and whisked him to a phone in the nearby barracks where he gave Lynch the verbal briefing that became the famous conciliatory Tralee speech of September 1969.
Lynch’s prophetically pluralist speech contained such lines as: “The Protestants of the North need have no fear of any interference with their religious freedom or civil liberties and rights.”
Whitaker followed up with a letter to Lynch that anticipates tropes we now take for granted:
“There is a terrible temptation to be opportunist – to cash in on political emotionalism – at a time like this; but it should never be forgotten that a genuinely united Ireland must be based on a free union of those living in Ireland, on mutual tolerance and on belief that ultimate government authority will be equitable and unprejudiced.”
As we head into another Big Billy v Big Mickey election, it has a certain familiar ring to it…