Monday, June 29, 2009

TK Whitaker, Gerard Sweetman and Sean Lemass some of the makers of modern Ireland

On tomorrow night RTE is running a programme titled Lemass: The Man who Made Modern Ireland.

The title of the programme is misleading.
In 1950 Fine Gael Minister for Industry and Commerce Dan Morrissey established the IDA -The Industrial Development Authority. Sean Lemass in opposition pledged to abolish the IDA if returned to power. FF on return to power in 1951 did not abolish the IDA. The IDA has played a major role in the development of Irish industry.
FF remained in power from 1951- 1954.

In 1954 Fine Gael, Labour, and Clann na Talmhan took office. FG TD Gerard Sweetman was appointed Minister for Finance.
That government inherited an economic mess. Unemployment stood at 421,000 whilst over 100,000 people had left agriculture during the previous 8 years. Sweetman strongly opposed the protectionist policies of FF and took very hard decisions. Sweetman believed that Ireland could grow its economy on the basis off booming exports. In his budget in 1955, he introduced a radical -for the time-scheme whereby a tax exemption was provided for exported goods. He also established the prize bonds scheme as a means of covering the national debt. In 1956 he plucked civil servant TK Whitaker from relative obscurity in the Civil Service and appointed him Secretary General of the Department of Finance. This raised quite a few eyebrows but the decision was a mark of Sweetman's greatness.

The incoming FF government benefited from Sweetman's decisions and indeed the work of Dan Morrissey in establishing the IDA in 1950.
TK Whitaker was the brainchild behind the First Programme for Economic Expansion, which played a major role in Irelands economic development in the 1960s. It is to the credit of Sean Lemass and a mark of his greatness that he accepted Whitaker's proposals and supported free trade policies espoused by Gerard Sweetman and T K Whitaker. In fact Lemass was now advocating policies diametrically opposed to those pursued by FF in power since the 1930. Certainly Sean Lemass was one of the makers of modern Ireland. But so also were Gerard Sweetman and T K Whitaker amongst others. It is important to realise that without the work of Sweetman and Whitaker, Lemass would have achieved little.

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