One of the most respected civil servants to work for the Dublin government, TK Whitaker, has said that an almost bankrupt Ireland was in danger of losing its independence in the late 1950s.
In a new documentary, he reveals that former Stormont ‘Prime Minister’ Terence O’Neill expressed the wish to have Donegal added to the occupied Six Counties.
Whitaker, arguably one of the most influential figures in 20th-century Ireland, said he warned the government in the late 1950s that the almost-bankrupt country would have to go back to Britain if urgent action was not taken to get out of debt.
He said: “The country was in danger of losing its independence. I felt an obligation to try and put things right.
“I was bold enough to write a note to the then [finance] minister [Sean Lemass] of the day saying if we continued the way we were it wouldn’t be long before we’d have to ask England to take us back.”
The 93-year-old says baffled IMF officials, who had arrived in the country to speak with Taoiseach Eamon de Valera in the late 1950s about the country’s finances, described him as “a strange man”.
In the documentary, Whitaker, who was finance secretary during the 1950s and 1960s, also reveals that French president Charles De Gaulle didn’t want Ireland to join the (then) EEC because of the country’s close ties with Britain.
The Down-born civil servant, who was a close adviser to both Sean Lemass and Jack Lynch during their time in government, says he was responsible for setting up the first state talks between the North and South after partition as he had developed a friendship with Terence O’Neill.
He says the issue of Donegal was discussed between Taoiseach Sean Lemass and O’Neill at a ground-breaking lunch meeting in 1967.
“Terence O’Neill told [Lemass] he really regretted that the six counties were only six counties and the county he liked best of all, Donegal, was outside their scope.
“‘Oh’ said Lemass, ‘You can have Donegal if you take [26-County Minister Neil] Blaney with it’,” Whitaker says.
He also reveals that a fired-up Ian Paisley and his supporters threw snowballs at the state car he was travelling in with the then taoiseach Jack Lynch for a similar meeting at Stormont in the late 1960s.
“They were standing in the snow armed with snowballs which they threw at our car. They were not very good shots.
“But when we were getting out at the prime minister’s residence you could hear Ian Paisley bellowing ‘No pope here, no pope here’ and Jack Lynch turned to me and said in his nice soft Cork accent ‘Which of us does he think is the Pope?’”