T. K. Whitaker

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Thomas Kenneth "Ken" Whitaker
Born (1916-12-08) 8 December 1916 (age 99)
Rostrevor, County Down, Ireland
Occupation Economist

Thomas Kenneth "Ken" Whitaker (born 8 December 1916)[1] is an Irish economist and former public servant, credited with a pivotal role in the economic development of Ireland. At 99 years of age, he remains mentally agile and is regularly consulted for his views on Irish economic issues.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Whitaker was born in Rostrevor, County Down, in 1916, shortly after the Easter Rising when all 32 counties were under British rule. His father was from County Westmeath and was assistant manager of a linen mill in the town.[3] His mother, Jane O'Connor, came from Ballyguirey East, Labasheeda, County Clare. He was educated by the Christian Brothers in Drogheda which is now Scholars Townhouse Hotel. and later obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Latin and Celtic studies. Whitaker also earned an M.Sc. Econ degree by private study from the University of London.


Whitaker applied to join the Irish Civil Service and was successively awarded first place in four civil service exams: Clerical Officer (1934), Executive Officer (1935), Assistant Inspector of Taxes (1937), and Administrative Officer (1938). In 1943, he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Principal Officer, and in 1947, Principal Officer.

In 1956 Whitaker was appointed Secretary of the Department of Finance at the exceptionally young age of thirty-nine. His surprise appointment took place at a time when Ireland's economy was in deep depression. Economic growth was non-existent, inflation apparently insoluble, unemployment rife, living standards low and emigration at a figure not far below the birth rate. Whitaker believed that free trade, with increased competition and the end of protectionism, would become inevitable and that jobs would have to be created by a shift from agriculture to industry and services. He formed a team of officials within the department which produced a detailed study of the economy, culminating in a plan recommending policies for improvement. The plan was accepted by the government and was transformed into a White Paper which became known as the First Programme for Economic Expansion, and quite unusually this was published with his name attached in November 1958. The programme, which became known as the "Grey Book", became a landmark in Irish economic history, primarily for its bold new ideas. This brought the stimulus of foreign investment into the Irish economy. Before devoting himself to poetry, Thomas Kinsella was Whitaker's private secretary.[4]

Subsequently, Whitaker steered Ireland’s programme of trade liberalisation and structural reform in the 1960s. Economic growth accelerated as a result. In 1973, Ireland acceded to the EU in a process in which he played an instrumental role as Governor of the Irish Central Bank, a role to which he had moved in 1969.

His influence was not confined to things economic alone, however. In 1965 he liaised with Jim Malley, private secretary to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and was able to successfully organise the unprecedented meeting between Seán Lemass and Terence O'Neill.

Although Whitaker had left the Department of Finance in 1969, he remained policy advisor to Jack Lynch on matters concerning Northern Ireland. As a result, a document entitled 'The Constitutional Position of Northern Ireland in IV parts' was created, which analysed the historical development of the situation in Northern Ireland, the pro-partition view, the anti-partition view, and possible reconciliation between North and South.

Whitaker worked with the Ford Foundation to secure funding to launch the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland, and was its president from foundation for over fifteen years. He was president of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland between 1968 and 1971.

In 1977, the then Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Jack Lynch nominated Whitaker as a member of the 14th Seanad Éireann from 1977 to 1981, where he served as an independent (i.e. non-party) senator.[5] In 1981 he was nominated to the 15th Seanad by the Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, where he served until 1982. FitzGerald also appointed him to chair a Committee of Inquiry into the Irish penal system, and he also chaired a Parole Board or Sentence Review Group for several years.

Whitaker also served as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1976 to 1996. He was 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 had a very strong love for the Irish language throughout his career and the seminal collection of Irish poetry, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed 1600-1900, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella was dedicated to T.K.[6]

From 1995–1996 he chaired the Constitution Review Group, an independent expert group established by the government, which published its report in July 1996.[7]

Ken Whitaker also served as the first Chairman of the Scholarship Board of the O'Reilly Foundation and the first Chairman of the Agency for Personal Service Overseas (APSO). He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Management.

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2001, an RTÉ programme voted Whitaker the "Irishman of the 20th Century", beating Michael Collins and other revolutionaries in the process.

In December 2001, the Dundalk Institute of Technology opened a building named in his honour.

He received the "Greatest Living Irish Person" award in 2002. [1]

In February 2005 he was presented with an Honorary Fellowship in the Literary and Historical Society of University College Dublin by the then-Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen

Whitaker Square, a commercial development in Dublin's docklands, was named in his honour. Whitaker Square is the location of the Economic and Social Research Institute.

The Institute of Public Administration, Whitaker School of Government and Management, is also named in his honour.

In April 2015 he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by The University College Dublin Economics Society for his outstanding contribution to Ireland's Economic Policy.

Personal life[edit]

T.K. Whitaker married Nora Fogarty in 1941; they had six children; Brian, David, Ken, Gerry, Catherine, and Raymond. After her death in 1994 he married Mary Moore in 2005. He and Mary Whitaker were invited to Áras an Uachtaráin for his 90th birthday by the President of Ireland.[8] Mary Whitaker died in 2008.



  1. ^ McCormack, W. J.; Gillan, Patrick (2001). The Blackwell companion to modern Irish culture. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 606. ISBN 978-0-631-22817-2. 
  2. ^ See, for instance, the interview with him about Seán Lemass's economic policies on 'Today with Pat Kenny', RTÉ Radio 1, 26 June 2009.
  3. ^ Ó Muircheartaigh, Fionán; Whitaker, T. K. (1997). Ireland in the coming times: essays to celebrate T.K. Whitaker's 80 years. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-872002-93-4. 
  4. ^ http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/kinsellas-wife-reveals-her-hurt-at-the-poets-words-of-love-26522803.html
  5. ^ "Mr. Thomas K. Whitaker". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  6. ^ http://www.beo.ie/index.php?archive_id=1135&page=archive_content
  7. ^ Constitution Review Group (1996). Report of the Constitution Review Group. Dublin: Stationery Office. ISBN 0-7076-2440-1. 
  8. ^ Áras an Uachtaráin - News

External links[edit]