Address by the Minister for Finance, Mr Brian Cowen, TD, at the presentation of an Honorary Fellowship to Dr TK Whitaker by the Literary and Historical Society, University College Dublin.
I am greatly honoured to have been invited here by the Literary and Historical Society to mark the presentation of an honorary fellowship to one of Ireland's most distinguished public servants, Dr Ken Whitaker.
Ken Whitaker has made a long and unrivalled contribution to public life in Ireland. It was appropriate that his service to the State was acknowledged with the accolade of Ireland's "Greatest Living Irish Person" a number of years ago in the Ireland's People of the Year Awards.
To reflect on Dr Whitaker's contribution to public life in Ireland requires an examination of his considerable input into an wide range of policy areas and an appreciation of the intellectual depth he has brought to the many positions he has held since he joined the Civil Service over seventy years ago.
As Minister for Finance I was honoured to present my first Budget last December. During my Budget speech I said that: "Government has a responsibility to ensure that the benefits of our economic performance permeate society as a whole. Proper budgetary policy involves careful evaluation and our task is to put together an economic model that builds a society of which we all can be proud". Ken Whitaker, as Secretary of the Department of Finance, was the principal architect of the paper Economic Development, which has been one of the seminal influences on our economic development since it was published in 1958. Similarly he played an important role in developing Ireland's international trade relations throughout the 1960s leading ultimately to Ireland's accession to the EEC in 1973 We should be grateful for Ken and his colleagues far-sighted and strategic approach at that time, an approach that has helped us to build that "society of which we can all be proud" that I referred to in my Budget speech.
But of course Dr Whitaker's contributions to Irish life have not simply been in the area of economic development. There are many other areas where he has contributed to public life and I would like to outline briefly on how wide-ranging his interests and influence has been.
It is sometimes forgotten that Northern Ireland has played an important part in his life. Dr Whitaker, who was born in Rostrevor, Co Down, played a key role in the groundbreaking visit of the then Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, to Stormont in 1965 and the subsequent visit by Jack Lynch as Taoiseach in 1967 and he remained a valued advisor to Jack Lynch on Northern Ireland issues during his term as Taoiseach.
His nomination as a Senator by two Taoisigh is a testament to his independence of mind and to the high respect he was held by Governments of different political traditions. His contribution to Seanad debates were notable for erudite exposition of carefully crafted argument.
I am glad to say that the idea of formal retirement has had no meaning for Dr Whitaker. Since his "retirement" he has participated in many reviews at the request of various Governments - a tribute to his objectivity and impartiality. These include his chairmanship of the Constitution Review Group which was charged with undertaking an exhaustive review of the Constitution. I know that the All-Party Committee on the Constitution have been greatly assisted in their deliberations by the Report of this Group.
As a Senator, he strongly argued for increased aid to enable sustainable development in third world countries. He served as the first chairman of the Agency for Personal Services Overseas (APSO) whose pioneering work is now continued in the Development Co-operation Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
He also made an important contribution to the development of social policy through his chairmanship of the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System and later as chairman of the Sentence Review Group.
Academic life in Ireland has benefited greatly from his contribution. He served as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland for twenty years guiding the University through a period of unprecedented growth. As well as serving as President of the Economic and Social Research Institute for over fifteen years, he was instrumental in negotiating the initial Ford Foundation funding which helped establish that Institute. The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the Royal Irish Academy are other institutions which have benefited from Ken's wise counsel and leadership.
Is eol dom go rí -mhaith cé chomh ceanúil is atá Ken ar an nGaeilge. Is ionúin leis í mar cheann de na gnéithe is tabhachtaí dár bhféiniúlacht agus is mian leis go leanfaí dá haithbheocháin. Is liosta le háireamh a bhfuil déanta aige ar son grúpaí éagsúla Gaeilge le blianta fada agus a sheal ina Chathaoirleach ar Bhord na Gaeilge san áireamh. Táimid fior buíoch dhuit an obair iontach a rinne tú ar son na Gaeilge.
I would like to finish by congratulating the members of the Literary and Historical Society for presenting Dr Ken Whitaker with an honorary fellowship and for inviting me to be part of the celebrations tonight. It is a compliment to you for making such a good choice and of course a fitting tribute to one of Ireland's finest public servants, Dr Ken Whitaker.