McCourt, Kevin (1915–2000), businessman and director general of RTÉ, was born 14 April 1915 in Tralee, Co. Kerry, second son among three sons and one daughter of John McCourt, originally of Banbridge, Co. Down, clerk with the congested districts board at Tralee, and later a distributor with Argosy Libraries, and Mary Christina McCourt (née Small) of Co. Down. He was educated at the CBS in Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, and Blackrock College. Leaving school at the age of 16 he joined the Dublin United Tramway Company as a clerk (1933–7), during which time he continued his education part-time at the Rathmines College of Commerce. On qualifying as both a chartered secretary and a certified accountant he became client company secretary (1937–40) with Kennedy, Crowley & Co., chartered accountants, later becoming secretary and accountant (1940–44) to McAuley & Co., wool merchants.
In 1944 he became secretary (1944–9) to the Federation of Irish Manufacturers (FIM) (subsequently the Federation of Irish Industry and then the Confederation of Irish Industry) where he helped to create the public relations committee (1945) and came into close contact with the Department of Industry and Commerce under Seán Lemass (qv). In 1949 McCourt was appointed a director (1949–51) and founder member of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) by Lemass's successor, Daniel Morrissey (qv). After his brief tenure with the IDA he worked for seven years as executive director (1951–8) with P. J. Carroll, tobacco manufacturers, where he learned the problems of production. He helped to modernise the firm's antiquated manufacturing processes and brought Don Carroll (qv) into the company. He later moved to Holland to join the international aluminium manufacturers Hunter Douglas NV as joint managing director (1958–63).
His position as a figure of prominence within Irish and European business was given further recognition when Seán Lemass, then taoiseach, asked him to return to Ireland to become the second director general of RTÉ. Despite a significant drop in remuneration he took up the post on 1 January 1963. Undaunted by both the attempted interference of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid (qv) and the views of Lemass, who believed that television should be an instrument of government policy, he insisted that RTÉ remain independent of both church and state.
After five years as director general of RTÉ he became group managing director (1968) of the United Distillers of Ireland Ltd. (later Irish Distillers). Throughout his ten years with the group he spearheaded the integration of a company that had been created from an amalgamation of three competing distilleries and oversaw the modernisation and rationalisation of the firm by moving all whiskey production to a single site in Midleton, Co. Cork. He was also instrumental in the purchase of Bushmills Distillery and responsible for creating a partnership with the Canadian firm Seagrams, who purchased 20% of United Distillers. In 1972 he agreed to write a series of articles for the Sunday Independent, which embroiled him in a controversy between the newspaper and the National Union of Journalists. The NUJ objected to his writing the articles on the basis that it was a threat to the employment of their members. The dispute caused the non-publication of one issue of the Sunday Independent, after which he ended the dispute by withdrawing the articles. By the time he retired from United Distillers the company's profits had risen from £500,000 to £3,500,000. After his retirement he remained on the board until 1983.
He was also director (1965–9) and chairman (1969–73) of Gorta, the famine relief agency, and chairman of Irish Steel (1975–86); Alexander Stenhouse (Ireland) Ltd (1980–87); Algemene Bank Nederland (Ireland) Ltd (1980–85); Irish Agricultural Machinery (1982–8); and Hibernian Life Assurance Ltd (1987–9). He held a number of other directorships in Foir Teoranta (1972–9), Jefferson Smurfit Group (1979–89) and Peterson Tennant Group Ltd (1979–82). He died 13 May 2000 in Dublin.
He married (1940) Margaret (‘Peggy’) McMahon of Dublin, daughter of John McMahon, barrister. They lived at Harmony Cottage, Eglinton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4.