The funeral of Dr. T. K. Whitaker, former civil servant and economist, takes place in Dublin on January 13, 2017. Regarded as the architect of the modern Irish economy, he dies at age 100 on January 9. President Michael D. Higgins, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Chief Justice Susan Denham, and Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin are among those attending the requiem mass for Dr. Whitaker at Donnybrook Church.
Whitaker is born in Rostrevor, County Down, to Roman Catholic parents on December 8, 1916, and reared in Drogheda, County Louth, in modest circumstances. His mother, Jane O’Connor, comes from Ballyguirey East, Labasheeda, County Clare. His father, Edward Whitaker, hails from County Westmeath and is assistant manager of a linen mill. He receives his primary and secondary education at the local CBS in Drogheda. He studies mathematics at University College Dublin.
In 1956, Whitaker is appointed Secretary of the Department of Finance. His appointment takes place at a time when Ireland’s economy is in deep depression. Economic growth is non-existent, inflation apparently insoluble, unemployment rife, living standards low and emigration at a figure not far below the birth rate. He believes that free trade, with increased competition and the end of protectionism, will become inevitable and that jobs will have to be created by a shift from agriculture to industry and services. He forms a team of officials within the department which produces a detailed study of the economy, culminating in a plan recommending policies for improvement. The plan is accepted by the government and is transformed into a white paper which becomes known as the First Programme for Economic Expansion. Quite unusually this is published with his name attached in November 1958. The programme which becomes known as the “Grey Book” brings the stimulus of foreign investment into the Irish economy. Before devoting himself to poetry, Thomas Kinsella is Whitaker’s private secretary.
In 1981, Whitaker is nominated to the 15th Seanad Éireann by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, where he serves until 1982. FitzGerald also appoints him to chair a Committee of Inquiry into the Irish penal system, and he chairs a Parole Board or Sentence Review Group for several years.
Whitaker also serves as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1976 to 1996. He is also President of the Royal Irish Academy and as such, a member of the Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland, from 1985 to 1987. He has a very strong love for the Irish language throughout his career and the collection of Irish poetry, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed 1600–1900, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, is dedicated to Whitaker. From 1995–96 he chairs the Constitution Review Group, an independent expert group established by the government, which publishes its report in July 1996.
Whitaker receives many national and international honours and tributes for his achievements during his lifetime, most notably the conferral of “Irishman of the 20th Century” in 2001 and Greatest Living Irish Person in 2002. In November 2014, the Institute of Banking confers an Honorary Fellowship on Whitaker and creates an annual T.K. Whitaker Scholarship in his name. In April 2015, he is presented with a lifetime achievement award by University College Dublin’s Economics Society for his outstanding contribution to Ireland’s economic policy.
In November 2016, to mark his centenary year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council acknowledges Whitaker’s “outstanding and progressive contribution to Irish public service and to society.” The Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Cormac Devlin, presents a special award to Whitaker which is accepted by Ken Whitaker on behalf of his father.