Today the Economic and Social Research Institute pays tribute to Thomas Kenneth Whitaker, eminent Irish economist and public servant who was instrumental in establishing the Institute in 1960. Whitaker, who passed away in Dublin on 9 January 2017, served as the Institute’s first President for fifteen years and as a member of its governing Council until 2004, remaining an active contributor to the Institute’s work throughout his lifetime.
Appointed to the position of Secretary of the Department of Finance in 1957, Whitaker is best known for leading a ground-breaking study to address Ireland’s economic decline. His research informed a government White Paper, Programme for Economic Expansion, which marked a positive transformation in the Irish economy by replacing a policy of protectionism and self-sufficiency with a move towards free trade, increased competition and a shift from agriculture to industry and services.
Whitaker became aware of the necessity for an independent research institute during the course of this research. While good data was available from the Central Statistics Office, Whitaker believed that analysis, using modern quantitative techniques, was essential to make such data useful for public policy formulation. When the US-based Ford Foundation provided initial funding to establish the Institute in 1959, Whitaker secured a government commitment to provide funding once such funds would expire.
Throughout his lifetime, he remained involved in the Institute’s activities and attended its 50th anniversary celebrations in 2010 in Aras an Uachtarain and the launch of a key publication, Using Evidence to Inform Policy, in 2013 in Government Buildings. ESRI Director Alan Barrett stated “Whitaker saw the Institute as crucial to advancing economic prosperity and social progress in Ireland through the provision of robust research to policymakers, and actively supported its work for more than fifty years. In a lifetime of remarkable dedication to public service, the establishment of the Institute remains one of Whitaker’s most significant and lasting contributions to Irish public life”.
Whitaker had a wide-reaching impact across many sectors of public life. He was appointed as the Governor to the Central Bank in 1969 and later served as a Senator in the Seanad for two administrations. He acted as a trusted advisor to governments on issues pertaining to Northern Ireland and worked in a variety of other roles, including Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, President of the Royal Irish Academy, Chairman of the Constitution Review Group 1995-1996, first Chairman of the Scholarship Board of the O’Reilly Foundation and the first Chairman of the Agency for Personal Service Overseas (APSO) and President of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society 1968-71.
The staff and Council of the Institute would like to express their sympathy to Dr. Whitaker’s family.
The ESRI works towards a national vision of ‘Informed policy for a better Ireland’. This means producing high-quality analysis to provide robust evidence for policymaking, with the goals of research excellence and policy impact.
The ESRI produces research that contributes to understanding economic and social change in the new international context and that informs public policymaking and civil society in Ireland.