Tuesday, January 10, 2017


T K Whitaker - RIP

Sadly Dr. TK Whitaker has died just one month after his 100th birthday.

I recall some memories below.

When I joined the Department of Finance in 1967, TK Whitaker was Secretary (now called Secretary General after the European model).

The first protocol you learned then was "Whitaker - one t". He was clearly put out at being reported or addressed in the the alternative, and probably more popular, spelling and the message had percolated (or as Charlie Murray would say, perocolated) down through the Department. So "Whitaker - one t" was the opening chapter of the volume "Department of Finance 101". If you didn't get beyond that point you got nowhere.

I was reminded of this in the run up to the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in 1997. They took place just after the handover, not just in "Hong Kong", but as those at the Chinese end insisted on referring to it as "Hong Kong China", all one word, so to speak.

Of course that was a mere detail and an insignificant footnote in the litany of the man's magnificent achievements which are well listed in today's Irish Times obituary and in Fintan O'Toole's well grounded assessment in the same paper..

When I joined the Department it was working on the Third Programme (following Whitaker's first in 1958) and as Jim McMahon (son of Bryan, and my then boss) can testify, we introduced a novel format for our chapter in the briefing note for the then Minister for Finance's (CJ Haughey) press conference, which passed muster with TKW. Unfortunately that was the one and only time that format was used in the Department, as far as I know.

In my time, Whitaker, as Secretary of the Department and subsequently as Governor of the Central Bank, worked in very strong ecumenical partnership with Professor Louden Ryan from TCD.

This was particularly evident in the workings of the National Industrial and Economic Council (NIEC) where Whitaker chaired the Council and Louden chaired the General Purposes Committee (GPC), which was effectively the Council's workhorse. Between them, these two Northerners exerted enormous influence over Irish economic policy.

Whitaker was loyal to both his colleagues and friends and not a man to be trifled with. I remember a particular occasion in the life of the NIEC, when I was on the Secretariat. For some reason, Charlie Murray, then an Assistant Secretary in the Department, had it in for Louden Ryan and he requested the preparation of a paper by the Secretariat showing how dilatory were the workings of the GPC. This, of course, would reflect badly on Louden. It would be completely unjustified as Louden was an incomparable operator and, along with Whitaker, the engine and motivator of the whole operation. Observing him at work was a masterclass in administration.

Anyway the paper was prepared and circulated to the Council. The ink was hardly dry on the envelopes when Whitaker was on the phone to Maurice Doyle (then a Principal Officer and nominal Seretary of the Council). I have never seen Maurice so shook as he was then. He was more or less told to "get the paper back" or consider his position.

Well, the paper was got back, but clearly not before some members of the Council had incautiously photocopied it without covering their tracks. Nevertheless, despite copies being around in old (maybe skipped) archives and presses, no mention of it has surfaced to my knowledge to this day.

Whitaker clearly did not suffer fools gladly.

Whitaker's support for the Irish language has been widely acknowledged but I have not seen it mentioned that, when he became Governor of the Central Bank, he insisted on inclusion of material in Irish in the Bank's Quarterly Bulletin.

Arising out of this, Dara McCormack (RIP), then in charge of the publication asked me if I would contribute. After assuring Maurice Doyle, then my boss's boss, that there would be nothing subversive or damaging to the Department in my contribution, I submitted a shortened version of a paper on price alignment in the EEC which I had done in the course of my (academic) year in the College of Europe in Bruges (Brugge). There was not much economic writing in Irish in those days and I found it necessary to provide a list of terms at the end, including a few inventions of my own.

I was at a book launch in 2014 in Dún Laoghaire when I ran into TK Whitaker and we exchanged some brief words. That was the first time I had spoken to him since the early 1970s and he seemed to enjoy recollections of his heyday in the Department. He graciously agreed to my taking a photo which you can see above.

Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann - RIP

1 comment:

Póló said...

Readers might like to be aware of this letter which appeared in the Irish Times on 12/1/2017.

A chara, – When my father Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh died unexpectedly in 1967, he was a principal officer in the Department of Finance. Soon after the funeral, the secretary of the department, TK Whitaker, phoned my mother, Bríghid Uí Éigeartaigh.

After expressing his condolences, he asked what would become now of the Irish-language publishing house Sáirséal agus Dill, run by my father and mother. Bríghid said it would have to close immediately, since it could not continue without my father’s salary.

Whitaker then asked Bríghid if she would wish to continue the business, if adequate financial arrangements could be made. He thought special arrangements might be possible, and was willing to do what he could to help. After thinking for a few days, she told him she would be glad to continue, provided reliable financial assistance could be provided quickly. Negotiations followed, with unaccustomed speed, and Sáirséal agus Dill continued in business for a further 15 years.

In the scale of Ken Whitaker’s achievements, this is a small matter. Nonetheless, I would welcome the opportunity to place this small stone on his cairn. – Is mise,


Dublin 14.

I had done a post on Sáirséal agus Dill some time ago.