Wednesday 20 September 2017

Think again about how we left poverty behind us

An explosively revisionist account of the Lemass era challenges our most conventional wisdoms, writes Dan O'Brien

INTO THE SWINGING SIXTIES: Sean Lemass, left, receiving his seal of office from then-president Eamon de Valera in June 1959. A new book claims that on Lemass’s watch “the age of auction politics arrived”. Photo: Independent Newspapers
INTO THE SWINGING SIXTIES: Sean Lemass, left, receiving his seal of office from then-president Eamon de Valera in June 1959. A new book claims that on Lemass’s watch “the age of auction politics arrived”. Photo: Independent Newspapers
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

Sean Lemass was an over-rated Taoiseach. Lauded mandarin TK Whitaker was a 'neoliberal' who had less influence on this republic then is commonly thought. Ireland's economy and society changed much less after the dismal 1950s than is often believed.

These claims are contained in what may be one of the most profoundly revisionist histories of recent decades. They would be taken with a shovel of salt if they had been written by a young academic out to make a name. But they are not. Mary Daly is the grande dame of academic historians, now retired from UCD and currently head of the very august Royal Irish Academy.

Her new book - Sixties Ireland - looks afresh at what most see as an inflection point in this State's history. The conventional wisdom is that in 1958 Whitaker, then a young secretary-general of the department of finance, single-handedly penned the masterplan for Ireland's opening to the rest of the world. This led to the end of the protracted and chronic economic underperformance that had raised questions about the very viability of the independent Irish State.

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