A refuge from accountability and a bulwark against transparency

Robert Watt made headlines when he appeared before two committees. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Robert Watt, secretary general at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, made headlines last week when he appeared first before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and then the finance and public expenditure committee on the same day. The issue, of course, was the National Children’s Hospital.

The headline was about the mandarin and the “mob”. Watt was too candid in private and overheard. Regrettably, the hospital overspend is spilt milk. Watt’s aside, if entertaining, is flotsam. The substantive issue, give or take a billion euro, is the fractious interface between senior civil servants and politicians, especially in Oireachtas committees. The underlying structural flaw isn’t our public procurement systems.

It’s the enveloping architecture intended to enable civil servants support elected politicians, and then account to them. An untold joke of Irish politics amid constitutional conventions, citizens’ assemblies and endless conversations about constitutional referenda, many unsought, is that the single instrument of far greater importance than most constitutional clauses, the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 remains undisturbed.

Sign in or register for FREE to continue enjoying and to comment on our great range of opinion writers

Not a member yet? Register here

More on this topic

PAC chair calls for criminal investigation into deaths at Portlaoise Hospital

PAC eyeing up government funding in advance of local elections

Millions wasted ‘miscalculating’ rents, finds PAC report

PAC should be a thorn in the side of powers that be

More in this Section

Rhododendrons and seagulls - Half-hearted protection is a betrayal

Childhood memories worm their way into subconscious adult minds

Absorbing life skills - Many paths lead to a good career

March against Brexit - Powerful protest

More by this author

Leo’s Ireland is a blank slate on which his success may be emulated by all

Mr Speaker has had his say and it is revenge for failed ‘assassination’

Elections are shaping up and they may reshape the European Union

If not now, then when? But only Leo knows the route to 60 seats


Lifestyle

The Skin Nerd: Glass skin- a trend or unattainable fantasy?

Rocking it: Jennifer Rock on family, the Nerd Network and how to love your skin

More From The Irish Examiner