Visionary architect of modern Ireland TK Whitaker dies

10 Jan 2017

TK Whitaker, who has been described as a patriot and visionary, has passed away. Image: Alchetron

TK Whitaker, the civil servant that bravely drew up a daring plan to break Ireland free from decades of economic isolation, has passed away.

TK Whitaker, who in recent months reached 100 years of age, was a department secretary in the Irish government in 1958, who along with a team of like-minded civil servants, decided that Ireland needed to set a new course.

In the first 40 years of the Republic of Ireland’s independence from the UK, various economic policies such as protectionism had failed, agricultural technology was outmoded, farmers were floundering, industry was practically non-existent and emigration was rife. The economy had stagnated.

‘He had a rare vision for our country and its future. He was a gentleman and patriot’

Whitaker and his team studied the global economy, went on fact-finding missions and recommended that Ireland join the International Monetary Fund.

Tough medicine

Whitaker and his colleagues drew up a document simply entitled ‘Economic Development’, expecting to be rejected by the de Valera and Lemass-run state of the time.

To their surprise, then Taoiseach Sean Lemass accepted the plan.

They advocated tough medicine – otherwise the Irish State would not survive.

Ireland then moved to become a more open economy, setting in train a range of further developments. These included an inward investment policy that still serves the country well, and even free education to provide the vital human resources that attracted investment and motivated generations of entrepreneurs.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, paid tribute to Whitaker: “TK Whitaker was, in every sense, a national treasure. He had an innate understanding of our patrimony – what we inherit from our ancestors – our ingenuity, our elegance, our intellect, our artistry, industry and kindness, and how we could put this to work for our country and our people.”

Kenny said that Whitaker changed lives for generations in Ireland.

“In the last decades, he more than any other person was responsible for transforming our economy and public life.

“He had a rare vision for our country and its future. He was a gentleman and patriot. Today, as a nation, we mourn the passing of this outstanding man. We celebrate and give thanks for his exemplary achievements on behalf of Ireland.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years