Friday 16 November 2018

Renowned public servant and economist TK Whitaker dies, aged 100

TK Whitaker
TK Whitaker
He has done the state some service: TK Whitaker with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2014 Picture: Mark Condren

Cormac McQuinn and Luke Byrne

Renowned economist TK Whitaker has died.

The former secretary of the Department of Finance and Governor of the Central Bank turned 100 last month.

Described by several Taoisigh as the State's finest public servant, he was named Irish Man of the 20th century in a public vote in 2001.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "TK Whitaker was 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.

"He had a rare vision for our country 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."

DR. TK Whitaker, Ireland's 'greatest economic thinker'.
DR. TK Whitaker, Ireland's 'greatest economic thinker'.

Mr Kenny concluded: "In modern Irish history, TK Whitaker is both incomparable and irreplaceable.

President Michael D. Higgins also paid tributes to Mr Whitaker in a statement which read: "Born in 1916, T.K. Whitaker’s life’s work is stands as the embodiment of the finest qualities and aspirations of the Irish people.

"As an economist and as a public servant, he contributed enormously to the building of an independent Ireland. He was recognised for this in the popular vote of him as the most influential Irish person of the last century."

President Higgins added: "He understood Ireland and its people at a profound level, but what is more, he loved Ireland deeply", before stating "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."

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has also paid tribute to Mr Whitaker.

"During his 30 years in the Department of Finance ,13 of which he spent in its most senior role, he demonstrated his skill and positive influence in both managing the Department itself, and strategically guiding national economic policies," he said in a statement.

"His appointment to the most senior role within the Department of Finance came during a period of economic stagnation. Together with a small team of officials, Whitaker prepared his ground-breaking report, Economic Development, in 1958...It provided a framework that would influence Irish economic policy for decades to come," he added.

"We remember the man and his family at this time, we  also recall the great achievements he has had in public policy and thank him for his contribution to public life in Ireland."

Central Bank Governor Philip R. Lane paid tribute to T.K. Whitaker, who served as Central Bank Governor from 1969 to 1976.

Governor Lane said; “It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of T.K. Whitaker. 

"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.”

Foreign Affairs minister Charlie Flanagan said on Twitter: "Saddened at the passing of  TK Whitaker after a century. As the Father of modern Ireland we acknowledge his vision with appreciation."

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Haughey posted a tribute on Twitter describing Mr Whittaker as "an outstanding public servant who played a pivotal role in the creation of modern Ireland. "May he rest in peace," he added.

NUIG released a statement expressing their condolences.

"In a career defined by innovation and dedication, Dr TK Whitaker led the transformation of Irish economic policy which has shaped modern Ireland.

"His service to the State continued long beyond his retirement in 1976 and had a major impact on many of facets of Irish life with more than 40 organisations having benefited from his wisdom and leadership."

In 1956, aged 39, Mr Whitaker became secretary of the Department of Finance. Against a background of economic stagnation, rampant emigration and an atmosphere of national despondency, in 1958 he devised Economic Development, a blueprint for the economic regeneration of the country.

Whitaker’s later achievements, included his Governorship of the Central Bank, his service as head of the ESRI and the National University of Ireland, his appointment to both Seanad Éireann and the Council of State, as well as his contribution to improving relations with Northern Ireland.

Detailed, meticulous and practical, written in a style and language aimed at the ordinary citizen as much as at politicians, he offered a radical remedy: the replacement of non-productive by productive capital expenditure, the introduction of free trade and an end to the isolation and protectionism of the previous era.

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