John FitzGerald: The shift from specialist to generalist skills in public service is a mistake

Downgrading of specialist skills has contributed to policy failures in the 2000s

TK Whitaker  in 1975, when he was governor of the Central Bank. Photograph: Tommy Collins

TK Whitaker in 1975, when he was governor of the Central Bank. Photograph: Tommy Collins

When the secretary of the Department of Finance TK Whitaker sought to change the direction of the Irish economy in the late 1950s, he faced many challenges – in particular convincing an elderly political elite of the urgency of the need for new thinking. However, he was also conscious of the fact that the Irish economics profession was ill-equipped to provide appropriate guidance.

The few Irish economists able to give useful advice on policy reform included Roy Geary, the then director of the Central Statistics Office, and the young Louden Ryan in TCD who, at Whitaker’s instigation, worked in the department on the Second Programme for Economic Development. Paddy Lynch of UCD and Martin O’Donoghue of TCD were among the authors in 1965 of the very important report Investment in Education.

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