Monday 22 January 2018

Spotlight needs to turn on mandarins

Following the TG4 documentary on TK Whitaker, John-Paul McCarthy says there is a great history of the modern Irish civil service yet to be written

IRELAND'S fascination with TK Whitaker has always raised an eyebrow or two amongst outsiders, considering the fact that his most important work was done in the Fifties, at least on the economic side.

The British do not want to relive the glory days of people like Norman Brook or Burke Trend, contemporaries of Whitaker's, who had an iron grip on Whitehall after 1945.

And neither do the Canadians obsess about the work of Arnold Heeney or Robert Bryce, key members of what JL Granatstein called the "Ottawa men" in his fairly pious history of the modern Canadian civil service. (Just like Peter Hennessy's approach to British mandarins, Granatstein's chaps are nearly always selfless workaholics with intellects that are always somewhere between 'formidable' and 'dynamic'. These books always leave me wondering what happened to the Flann O'Brien-type parasites who lurk in all bureaucracies, the dross who are nobly criticised by Maurice Hayes in our own time).

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