The public servant’s life work stands as the embodiment of the finest qualities and aspirations of the Irish people, said Mr Higgins.
“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.”
Mr Whitaker is credited with drawing up the blueprint that ended economic protectionism in Ireland and led to greater participation in world trade with the aid of foreign investment.
He was one of the youngest secretaries of the Department of Finance when appointed to the post at the age of 39, and played a prominent role in the country’s economic affairs in the 1940s and 1950s.
Mr Whitaker later became governor general of the Central Bank and a member of the Seanad and Council of State.
Mr Higgins said he was equally dedicated to the search for peace. “Just as his writing on economic development cast the mould for economic policies in Ireland, so did his paper on possible solutions define government policy on Irish reunification, by asserting the principle of popular consent,” he said.
“The Good Friday agreement would be unimaginable without TK Whitaker.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mr Whitaker was in every sense a national treasure. “TK Whitaker changed life, lives, and generations in Ireland,” he said.
“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.”
Central Bank governor Philip Lane said Mr Whitaker was a dedicated public servant committed to the wellbeing of the Irish people.
“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 said.
Martin Shanahan, chief executive of IDA Ireland, said that “if it were not for his policies, Ireland would not have the modern economy that we have today”.
“Dr Whitaker’s policies propelled Ireland into modernity and they allowed us to catch up with the rest of the world — his policies increased living standards for people in the subsequent decades. “Dr Whitaker encouraged us to look beyond our shores for the economic prosperity we desired as a nation. His courage and determination to persuade others of the need to create a more open economy in Ireland laid the foundations for the employment we see today in multinational companies across Ireland.”