Quigley, Sir George (1929–2013), civil servant and businessman, was born William George Henry Quigley into a presbyterian family on 26 November 1929 in Drumrot, Moneymore, Co. Londonderry, the son of William George Quigley, a potato inspector for the Ministry of Agriculture, and his wife Sarah (née Martin). After attending Dalriada School in Ballymoney and the Ballymena Academy, Co. Antrim, he graduated from QUB with a first-class honours BA (1951) in history and a Ph.D. (1955) in medieval Irish church history.
He continued researching history in his spare time after joining the Northern Ireland civil service in 1955. Building on their joint Ph.D., in 1972 he and Denis Roberts published an edition of the register of the fifteenth-century archbishop of Armagh, John Mey (qv). This was the first time any of the bound manuscript volumes of the registers of Armagh cathedral and chapter, spanning 1361–1546, were published in full. Their introduction advanced what became a widely accepted hypothesis: that the so-called registers were really a miscellany of drafts, notes and working papers. Thereafter, he maintained a recreational interest in history, developing an expertise in nineteenth-century America.
Rising within the Ministry of Labour, which was merged into the Ministry of Health and Social Services in 1965, he directed Northern Ireland's industrial training programme during the 1960s and was deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services by 1973. He made a point of encouraging the few catholics employed within Northern Ireland's civil service. In 1971 he married Moyra Munn, a fellow civil servant and one of the first women law graduates from QUB. They settled in Hollywood, Co. Down, had no children.
When the British government passed controversial industrial relations legislation in 1971, the Northern Ireland administration avoided following suit and instead established an industrial relations review body chaired by Quigley. Its 1974 report advised that any changes should be voluntary and allow for Northern Ireland's specific needs. This influenced the ministerial orders that lastingly delineated Northern Ireland's distinct industrial relations machinery in 1976.
He was promoted to permanent secretary of the Department of Manpower Services upon the establishment of the short-lived Sunningdale power-sharing executive on 1 January 1974 and set about developing policy and legislation aimed at ending employment discrimination against catholics. For this he was shunned by protestant colleagues and threatened by loyalist paramilitaries. Combining intellectualism with initiative, idealism with practicality, he emerged as an outstanding administrator with certain of his innovations being adopted by the British civil service. Subordinates lauded his professionalism and gentility.
In 1976 he was appointed chairman of a commission to consider Northern Ireland's economic strategy amid a low-level civil war, a collapsing manufacturing base, the withdrawal of outside investment and cuts in public spending. Justifiably known as the 'Quigley Report', it contained myriad clever ideas aimed more at creating employment rather than boosting productivity. Amongst other proposals, it advocated increased public spending, seeking EEC assistance, extending state ownership of industry and providing generous grants and tax breaks for foreign investors. Notable for criticising recent public spending cuts and for being written by civil servants instead of by consultants, the report was published in October 1976 against the wishes of the British Treasury. This prodded the government into exempting Northern Ireland from the cuts imposed elsewhere and into introducing better industrial incentives, though not tax breaks, for the region.
As permanent secretary of Northern Ireland's Department of Commerce (1976–9), Quigley then led determined and initially fruitful attempts to attract US investment. In July 1978 his influence was decisive in negotiating and securing political approval for a high-risk, potentially transformational scheme whereby US businessman John DeLorean established a car manufacturing plant in West Belfast. The hastily agreed terms required the British government to supply almost all the money, without gaining effective control, and were worded in a way that allowed DeLorean to extract additional subsidies. This venture employed 2,600 workers before foundering in 1982, having consumed £77 million in state funds. A report by the public accounts committee of the house of commons described the DeLorean affair as one of the worst misuses of public resources for many years and condemned the Department of Commerce's assessment and negotiation of the project.
This fiasco, along with similarly expensive failures, discredited Quigley's industrial interventionism, leading instead to a reliance on a bloated state sector to compensate for the lack of commercial activity. As permanent secretary of the Department of Finance from 1979 – the Department of Finance and Personnel from 1982 – he excelled at procuring the ever-larger British subventions so required, latterly having responsibility for a £5 billion annual budget. He enjoyed this role, taking full advantage of the scope it afforded for ranging widely across the administrative spectrum.
Upon retiring from the civil service in 1988, he was involved with numerous public bodies and private businesses, throwing himself into giving presentations and chairing meetings. Most prominent initially as deputy chairman (1988–9) and chairman (1989–2001) of the Ulster Bank, he was also a director of its parent, the National Westminster Bank (1990–9), and chairman of the National Westminster's pension fund (1998–2002). When all the main banks operating in southern Ireland were found to have enabled their customers' tax evasion through bogus non-resident accounts, Quigley came before the dáil public accounts committee in 1999 and unreservedly admitted the Ulster Bank's culpability. Despite substantially underestimating the unpaid taxes due, his testimony allowed the Ulster Bank to emerge with its reputation intact due to the other banks' unrepentant and dismissive attitude.
In 1989 he joined the board of Northern Ireland's largest manufacturer, the Short Brothers aircraft manufacturers, later serving as company chairman (2001–13). His other chairmanships included those of the Northern Ireland division of the Institute of Directors (1990–94), Co-operation North (1994–6), the Northern Ireland Economic Council (1994–8) and the Lothbury Property Trust (2001–13). He resigned his chairmanship of the Royal Group of Hospitals Trust (1992–5) in protest at the lack of funding from the health service.
A member of the national committee of inquiry into higher education (1996–7), known as the Dearing Committee, he wrote the Dearing Report's section on Northern Ireland. Subsequently he chaired the government committee for dealing with anomalies in Scottish university fees (1998–2000). He was also a professorial fellow of QUB (1989–93), a member of the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland (1989–93), a council member of the Northern Ireland chamber of commerce and industry (1989–93), a council member of the Northern Ireland section of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) (1990–95) and sat on the boards of the Irish-American Partnership (1989–2013) and of Independent Newspapers (2001–10). South of the Irish border, he was president of the ESRI (1999–2002), president of the Institute of International Trade of Ireland (1999–2001) and chairman of the Institute of British–Irish Studies in UCD (2006–13).
The Ulster Bank divided its branch network evenly between each side of the Irish border, encouraging his interest in closer north–south economic cooperation. Having developed links with southern politicians and officials during his civil service career, he achieved a notable coup in 1990 by persuading Taoiseach Charles Haughey (qv) to address the Institute of Directors in Belfast on economic co-operation. The event was a success despite the presence of protesters outside. Quigley then became an active member of the joint council formed in 1991 by the Confederation of Irish Industry and the CBI, Northern Ireland, for the purposes of stimulating cross-border trade.
In a 1992 speech he popularised the notion of Ireland becoming a one-island economy, principally by developing a Belfast–Dublin growth corridor capable of generating an industrial cluster effect. Over time he convinced most unionists to set aside their suspicions and accept such co-operation as an end in itself. He was an impressive public speaker with a talent for treating complex issues in a way that was comprehensible, persuasive and motivational. His efforts also contributed to the inclusion of a north–south dimension to the 1998 Belfast Agreement, particularly the establishment of the cross-border trade and business development body, InterTradeIreland. These 'one-island' business initiatives failed to produce a significant increase in trade or economic co-operation, but did facilitate improved relations between the unionists and the Irish government.
Drawing upon his charm and experience of government and business, he came to play a vital mediating role between Northern Ireland's warring factions, representing an admirable exception to the protestant middle classes' abandonment of the political fray. During an impasse in the Northern Ireland 'peace process' in 1996, he founded the G7 group, composed of business, trade union and voluntary organisations, which issued public statements outlining the economic benefits of peace. As G7 chairman (1996–2000), he marshalled the previously quiescent business community into a formidable peace lobby, thereby pressuring unionist politicians into engaging more constructively with the peace process. The G7 championed the Belfast Agreement (1998) without explicitly endorsing it, drawing condemnations from anti-agreement unionists. In February 1999 Quigley caused controversy by declaring on behalf of the G7 that full decommissioning should not be a pre-condition for Sinn Féin's participation in a devolved government.
With the annual standoff over the routing of the Orange march at Drumcree, near Portadown, Co. Armagh, threatening to undermine the nascent peace settlement, Quigley and the G7 held a series of fruitless meetings with the Portadown lodge of the Orange order and one meeting with the nearby Garvaghy Road residents in July 1998. The G7 made further attempts to broker a compromise before desisting when several members received death threats from loyalists in March 1999. Quigley continued offering advice, mostly unheeded, to the Orange order.
In 2001 he was chosen to head the politically sensitive government review of the Parades Commission, a quasi-judicial body responsible for banning or restricting Orange marches deemed contentious. Quigley's 2002 report was in line with UUP proposals and urged a cross-community focus on facilitating resolutions, but disappointed the Orange order by arguing for transferring decision-making powers on parades to the police rather than to a devolved administration. The report was not implemented. He was also involved with assisting formerly imprisoned republicans and loyalists seeking re-integration into society, and chaired a government task force, which produced a voluntary code in 2007 for employers; it advised that conflict-related convictions should not generally be a bar to employment. Further reflecting his stature, he was one of three independent witnesses called on to verify the UDA's decommissioning of its weapons in 2010.
In late 2005 he established the Northern Ireland Industrial Task Force, comprising representatives from business and academia, which pressed for allowing Northern Ireland to set its own, much lower corporation tax rate, to attract more foreign investment. He had been pushing this idea since the mid 1990s. Although the ensuing well-organised publicity campaign won the backing of the main Northern Ireland parties, the British prime minister Gordon Brown rejected this demand in 2007. Quigley revived the corporation tax campaign prior to the 2010 general election, and it remained a live issue thereafter.
Disappointed by the slow pace of political progress in Northern Ireland and conscious of the enduring ethno-religious divide and of the growth of an alienated loyalist underclass, he remained optimistic in his public utterances and tireless in his advocacy of reconciliation, compromise and economic development. He welcomed the drift towards a federal UK and predicted the eventual formation of a confederation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Made an MRIA in 2008, he received a CBE (1982) and knighthood (1993) as well as honorary degrees from QUB (1996), the University of Ulster (1998) and the Open University (2005). He died on 3 March 2013 after taking ill while attending services at his local presbyterian church in Helen's Bay, Co. Down. The Ulster Bank published a collection of his speeches in 2015.