House of O’Brien pays tribute to Ó hUigínn

The redveloped Canada House at Stephen’s Green is dedicated to the former civil servant


Interesting to see that the redeveloped Canada House on the corner of Dublin’s Stephen Green has been dedicated to Pádraig Ó hUigínn, who those with greyer hair will remember was secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach between 1982 and 1993. He was closely associated with the late Charles Haughey.

Ó hUigínn was credited as a key figure behind the social partnership process and, in particular, the 1987 deal which traded pay restraint against the promise of future tax reductions and was seen as vital in the subsequent economic recovery.

He was also a main mover in the development of the IFSC, pushing through key changes to get the project going, often against civil service resistance.

A plaque erected outside the building, where a €25 million redevelopment is being completed by builder Bernard McNamara, refers to Ó hUigínn’s record of public service.

The link is the site owner, Denis O’Brien, who bought Canada House way back in 2001 for €21 million. After retiring from the civil service, Ó hUigínn was appointed a director of O’Brien’s Esat Telecom in early 1994. O’Brien and Ó hUigínn had first met on a trade trip to the former Czechoslovakia a few years previously. At the end of 1995, Esat Telecom was awarded the second mobile phone licence.

Ó hUigínn told the Moriarty tribunal in a brief appearance that his role in the process was as a non-executive director and he was not directly involved in talks with senior civil servants, or in any contacts with then minister, Michael Lowry. He was among the beneficiaries when Esat was sold to BT five years later, with his shares valued at £3.5 million.

The plaque refers to his time as a senior civil servant and his commitment to the “advancement of Ireland”. Ó hUigínn was a sharp and forceful operator as a senior civil servant and has already received various gongs to recognise his contribution to the IFSC. He once commented about his “11 years working under three taoisigh”. This allegedly led Tony O’Reilly to comment that “three taoisigh worked under Pádraig”.