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T.K. Whitaker

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Dr. T.K. Whitaker (b.1916), Irish economist and public servant.

Thomas Kenneth Whitaker was born in 1916 in Rostrevor, County Down. He was educated by the Christian Brothers in Drogheda and obtained a BA in mathematics, economics and Celtic studies. Whitaker also received a M.Sc.Econ degree by private study from the University of London. He was awarded first place in four civil service exams: clerical officer (1934), executive officer (1935), assistant inspector of taxes (1937), and administrative officer (1938).

Whitaker progressed rapidly through the ranks and was appointed Secretary at the Department of Finance at the age of thirty-nine, becoming the youngest ever person to hold this position. His 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 agri-culture to industry and services. He formed a team of officials within the department and together they 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 Programme for Economic Expansion, this was first published in November 1958. The programme became a landmark in Irish economic history, primarily for its bold new ideas.

In 1965 Whitaker and Jim Malley, private secretary to the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, organised the unprecedented meeting between Sean Lemass and Terence O'Neill. Whitaker retired from the Department of Finance in 1969. In that year he became Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland and served in Seanad Éireann between 1977 and 1982. Whitaker also served as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1976 to1996.

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

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