Friday 15 December 2017

Whitaker's heart was forever at one with Ireland and its people

TK Whitaker, who died on Monday Photo: Tom Burke
TK Whitaker, who died on Monday Photo: Tom Burke

Gerard O'Regan

What I remember most about that night I had dinner with TK Whitaker was the soft spoken voice - replete with the calm authority of somebody who had lived a long, long life, and who had achieved much. His sprightly longevity was almost as much a source of fascination as the many lauded achievements that made him the most famous civil servant in the history of the State.

Much comment has been made in recent days on his undoubted intelligence - but Mr Whitaker's singular strength was perception, the never-to-be-underestimated capacity to see around corners. His genius on this front meant he could push the boundaries of what a public servant could and should do when it came to influencing his political masters. He nudged them forward when he felt a particular course of action should be taken, and he was sometimes able to hold them back, if convinced they were overstepping the mark. On this front, he enjoyed remarkable success with two Fianna Fáil taoisigh with whom he was personally close - Seán Lemass and Jack Lynch. However, his relationship with Charles Haughey never bonded in the same way.

During our conversations, he recalled his childhood and younger days; perhaps if the family had been better off he might have pursued a medical career. Instead, he resorted to what was the great fall-back at the time for a bright young school leaver of modest means and with a top-class Leaving Cert in their pocket. He became a civil servant. His dizzying rise from the bottom to the top of the Department of Finance was, of itself, a remarkable achievement.

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