Architect of modern Ireland TK Whitaker dies aged 100

Taoiseach Enda Kenny pays tribute to outstanding patriot and man of rare vision

TK Whitaker was described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a national treasure. Photograph: The Irish Times

TK Whitaker was described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a national treasure. Photograph: The Irish Times


Ireland’s most revered public servant TK Whitaker has died.

The man regarded as the architect of modern Ireland died on Monday a month after his 100th birthday on December 8th.

Author of the document he called “Economic Development”, he offered a blueprint for the economic regeneration of a stagnant economy through the end of protectionism and the introduction of free trade.

It transformed Irish economic policy and led to decades of growth in the second half of the 20th century and a more international outlook.

Seán Lemass, previously the architect of the policy of protectionism, acknowledged it had outlived its usefulness and fully supported the radical change of policy.

Mr Whitaker had warned that protectionism threatened the State’s existence and unless it ended immediately “it would be better to make an immediate move towards reincorporation into the United Kingdom”.

Surprised at how quickly his plan was adopted he subsequently quipped that if it had failed, then the government could have blamed “a group of chancers in Finance who had never been asked to do it in the first place”.

Free travel

His one policy failure, to the relief of generations of pensioners, was his appeal to then minister for finance Charlie Haughey not to introduce free travel. It is said right up to the moment Mr Haughey entered the Dáil chamber, Mr Whitaker urged him not to give the project the green light.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night described Mr Whitaker as “in every sense a national treasure”. Mr Kenny said: “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.”

Global view

In a statement the Department of Finance said: “By promoting free trade and encouraging inward investment, Whitaker’s influence helped to change the Irish economy away from previous introspective policies and turn it outwards to face the world.

“Whitaker’s later achievements, including his successful 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, have secured his place as one of Ireland’s most influential public servants.”