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News : Irish Last Updated: Apr 24, 2009 - 5:31:05 PM

Whitaker Tribute Conference: International academic says Ireland’s economic institutions “seem inherently quite vulnerable to corruption, special pleading, ‘jobs for the boys’ and other such undesirable distortions"
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Sep 19, 2008 - 12:44:26 PM

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A portrait of Dr. T.K. (Ken) Whitaker (b.1916- ), eminent civil servant and economist, whose study, Economic Development was the basis for the First Programme for Economic Expansion, published in 1958, hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland. The portrait by Thomas Ryan P.P.R.H.A. was officially unveiled by Mr. Charlie McCreevy, T.D., Minister for Finance, in the National Gallery on Monday, April 22nd, 2002
Whitaker Tribute Conference:
At a conference on Ireland's economy, hosted by the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) in association with the Department of Finance, as a tribute to the contribution of Dr T.K. Whitaker, the architect of the modern Irish economy, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the seminal document, Economic Development, an international academic has warned the Irish Public Service that it needs to make more extensive use of international panels of experts for filling senior appointments, awarding Government contracts and on competition policy.  Professor Paul Hare of Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University said Ireland’s economic institutions “seem inherently quite vulnerable to corruption, special pleading, ‘jobs for the boys’ and other such undesirable distortions”.

In a 30-page paper entitled Growth and Development – Lessons and Surprises, Professor Hare said that while there are doubts about the current stance of the country’s macroeconomic policy, he sees these “more as short-term imbalances rather than as longer term threats”. The economic record of the past three years is an impressive one, Professor Hare said.

“In some respects, though, Ireland’s economic institutions, especially where they concern issues of competition policy; selection of personnel for senior positions (eg in private business, the civil service, the universities); the awarding of government contracts; and so on, seem inherently quite vulnerable to, special pleading, ‘jobs for the boys’, and other such undesirable distortions. ‘Jobs for the boys’ (and girls, too, naturally) is a widespread practice in many countries and generally refers to the practice of securing jobs through personal connections and the like.

“If the boys(and girls) who actually get the jobs are sufficiently deserving and competent, then the system need not be so bad (though it is never fair). But how does a country build up the ‘ethos’ that makes this happen and sustains it? In a small country like Ireland, where at elite level everyone knows everyone else, this is surely immensely difficult. To ensure both fairness and high standards, I would therefore favour extensive use of international panels of experts, along with a high degree of openness and transparency. To achieve this, Ireland still has some way to go,”
Professor Hare said.

The Conference celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of ‘Economic Development’, one of the pre-eminent policy documents in Ireland’s economic history since independence. Professor Hare said one of the successes of that 1958 document was that it was optimistic about the future. “It helped the Irish people to believe in themselves and to believe that they could prosper,” he said.

Former Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald told the conference that Ireland today finds itself in a place where wage levels are inflated to a level that has made it impossible for us to compete successfully with our European partners. “Within the past seven years, this has inevitably led to a slowing of goods exports that has cost us the loss of almost one-third of our share of the world market for goods,” Dr FitzGerald said. He added that another concerning factor was that in four of our seven most recent years, 2000 to 2007, the increase in national consumption exceeded the increase in national income.

Prof. Frances Ruane of the ESRI, in a paper on Resonances from Economic Development for Current Economic Policy Making, said the growth engine of the Irish economy today is mainly found in foreign-owned enterprises, and despite recent reports, we are still a considerable distance away from having large numbers of strong internationally-trading indigenous businesses. “We ignore our dependence on these foreign-owned enterprises at our peril,” she warned.

Professor Ruane, in addressing the role of the market in Ireland, said there was a need to address the failure of certain publicly provided services, like urban buses, to provide a good service to Irish consumers. She said “evidence of real reform remains to be seen” in public services and whether there is the commitment and momentum to achieve increased efficiency in the public service.

Dr. T.K. Whitaker - Architect of the Modern Irish Economy
Whitaker was born in County Down in 1916 and was educated in CBS Drogheda. He graduated with a BA in mathematics, economics and Celtic studies and was later awarded a MScEcon from London University. He sat the Civil Service examinations in 1934 and received first place for the position of clerical officer. In 1935 he successfully applied for the position of executive officer, in 1937 was made assistant inspector of taxes, and in 1938 he became administrative officer in the Department of Finance. In 1943 he gained the position of assistant principal and by 1947 he had achieved the position of principal.

In 1955, at the very young age of 39, he was appointed by Fine Gael Minister for Finance Gerard Sweetnam, as Secretary to the Department of Finance. His career as a distinguished civil servant flourished and he was instrumental in shaping Irish economic policies in the late 1950s and 1960s. The publication in 1958 of Whitaker's Economic Development, known as 'the grey book', is widely accepted as a landmark in Irish economic history. In 1965, Whitaker attended the historic meeting of An Taoiseach, Seán Lemass and the Northern Prime Minister, Capt. Terence O'Neill in Stormont. He retired from the Department of Finance in 1969.

Other keynote speakers at the conference included Brian Lenihan TD, Minister for Finance, David Doyle, Secretary General of the Department of Finance and Professor Nick Crafts, (University of Warwick). The conference also featured a speech from Dr TK Whitaker, the key author of the 1958 policy document whEconomic Development – The Historical Contextich was being celebrated. Professor Frank Barry (Trinity College) gave a paper on Underpinning of Whitaker’s position, Prof. Ronan Fanning (UCD): and Prof. Tom Garvin (UCD): Dublin Opinions: Newspapers and the Crisis of the 1950s

The Conference continued a series of events by the IPA focusing on the challenges for the Public Service and the country. The IPA’s annual conference this year looked at the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Irish public services, while the Institute has also published an acclaimed book Ireland in 2022 looking at the challenges for the country to meet the demands of the next decades.

Conference papers haven't been published online.

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