TK Whitaker, described as the most influential public servant in Ireland's history, died in Dublin last night. Chosen as 'Irish Man of the 20th Century' in a public vote in 2001, he turned 100 last month.
Whitaker became secretary of the Department of Finance in 1956, at the age of 39. Best known for his seminal paper of 1958, ‘Economic Development’, which heavily influenced ‘The First Programme for Economic Expansion 1958-63’, it changed Irish economic policy, regenerating a stagnant economy through the end of protectionism and the introduction of free trade.
President Michael D Higgins led the tributes to the former public servant and economist.
"I have learned with great sadness of the death of Thomas Ken Whitaker, a man who contributed so much to his country and his people," the President said in a statement.
He said Whitaker's life's work stood "as the embodiment of the finest qualities and aspirations of the Irish people", noting that Whitaker "contributed enormously to the building of an independent Ireland". He also highlighted his role in the search for peace, saying that without his work asserting the principle of popular consent, the Good Friday Agreement would have been unimaginable.
"I had the privilege and also the great pleasure to know Dr Whitaker. His great energy and intellectual rigour was matched by an irresistible personal charm. He was as inspiring as he was impressive and as fine an Irishman as there has been," President Higgins said.
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny also paid tribute to man he described as "in every sense a national treasure. He had an innate understanding of our patrimony - what we inherit from our ancestors - our ingenuity, our elegance, our intellect, our artistry, industry and kindness, and how we could put this to work for our country and our people.
"TK Whitaker changed life, lives and generations in Ireland. In the last decades, he more than any other person was responsible for transforming our economy and public life.
Kenny said Whitaker had a rare vision for Ireland and its future. "He was a gentleman and patriot. Today, as a nation, we mourn the passing of this outstanding man. We celebrate and give thanks for his exemplary achievements on behalf of Ireland. In modern Irish history, TK Whitaker is both incomparable and irreplaceable."
The governor of the Central Bank Philip Lane also paid tribute to Whitaker, who served as governor of the bank from 1967 to 1976.
"He was a dedicated public servant, deeply committed to the well-being of the Irish people. His vision of Ireland as an open, dynamic economy has provided the platform for Irish economic policy for the last sixty years.”
“During his tenure at the Central Bank, Governor Whitaker led the modernisation of the Central Bank and the expansion of its mandate, which enabled it to address challenges such as the first oil shock, the modernisation of the domestic financial sector, increased volatility in the international financial system and significant inflationary pressures. He was also a consistent voice in providing independent economic advice to the government throughout this period. In the Central Bank, he is also remembered for important initiatives such as increased opportunities for female staff and reformed management structures," Lane said.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said that by promoting free trade and encouraging inward investment, Whitaker helped to move the Irish economy away from introspective policies and turn it outwards to face the world. He said the respect with which Whitaker is held "by politicians of all hues speaks volumes for his legacy as a public servant".
The Central Bank released a video commemorating Whitaker's time as governor last December to mark his 100th birthday.