Book review: TK Whitaker: Portrait of a Patriot

Fascinating behind the scenes stories of the political events of the late 60s and early 70s are a particular attraction of this book. It also develops the economic history of the nation since the foundation of the state in and through the life of Dr Whitaker.  You see his key role in the peace process of Northern Ireland as well as how civil servants function and their role in serving the government. Expertly written by Anne Chambers, it takes on the style of a thriller as it answers many questions of those of us who grew up in that period and had little or no knowledge of what was really happening.

How civil servants on both sides of the Irish Sea and in Northern Ireland came together unofficially to forge the future is intriguing. Names like James Callaghan, opposition spokesman and later UK Prime Minister, was involved and his holiday in West Cork is mentioned. A surprising closeness and respect is revealed by the interaction between these people which may have seemed the last thing to be expected. The prevailing sentiment was that British citizens were distant, uninterested in Ireland and that few would even dream of holidaying here.

In his role as Secretary of Finance, the leading position in the civil service, and later a Governor of the Central Bank, he played a pivotal role in guiding the economy through turbulent times.

“Let us remember that we are not seeking economic progress for purely materialistic reasons but because it makes possible relief of hardship and want, the establishment of a better social order, the raising of human dignity, and, eventually, the participation of all who are born in Ireland in the benefits, moral and cultural, as well as material, of spending their lives and bringing up their children in Ireland.”

The Irishman of the century is described as the personification of integrity, service, and commitment while leading a simple personal and family life. He becomes a model to imitate.

At a time when some ridicule the value of morality and its origins, his professional life speaks reams about the fruitfulness and importance of professional morality in all situations. Lack of it was the hallmark of the period after his incumbency and every citizen felt the pain.

It is as if his very presence connects them to a time and a society motivated by a caring and more ethical set of principles.

A good question to ask is where that type of society comes from? The need for ethical training could be the greatest message to learn from his passing.

Fr Conor Donnelly qualified as a medical doctor in University College Dublin in 1977 and worked as a house physician and surgeon for one year at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. He was ordained a priest in 1981 for the Prelature of Opus Dei. He obtained a doctorate in Theology from the University of Navarre, Spain in 1982. He is at present the chaplain of Kianda School for Girls, Kenya.