TK Whitaker: an appreciation
TK Whitaker, who passed away on Monday, didn’t actually lead us into the EEC but he certainly prepared the path more than any other single person. His genius lay not merely in the analytical capacity he showed in writing the ‘Economic Development’ paper for the government in 1957 (later published as the ‘First Programme for Economic Expansion’) but in selling his economic ideas to men like Sean Lemass and Frank Aiken. These veterans of the War of Independence were deeply wedded to the protectionist policies of De Valera; Whitaker not only convinced them to switch to free trade concepts to generate growth, which were not exactly vote-winners, he also got them to go and tell the ‘Chief’ that a new era was coming. Lemass signed off on Irish membership of GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, precursor of the World Trade Organisation) in 1960 and shortly thereafter Aiken as Minister for External Affairs took us into the European Free Trade Agreement.
Whitaker later went on to head up the Central Bank and was a founder of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) which is now providing much of the best analysis on the impact of Brexit available in Ireland. He was born in Rostrevor, Co. Down and he celebrated his 100th birthday at the beginning of December. He will be missed.