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'We can't have every minister firing out statements willy-nilly': John Halligan asked to clarify criticism of PAC

The Independent Alliance TD is believed to have taken issue with the line of questioning targeted at WIT.

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald

THE PUBLIC ACCOUNTS committee (PAC) is to write to Junior Minister for Skills and Training, John Halligan to ask him to clarify a statement he made regarding the questioning of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).

Officials from the college appeared before the PAC last week.

Questions focused on how companies co-located within WIT were commercialised and in some cases sold off. The officials were asked about what policies were in place to deal this.

Waterford TD David Cullinane asked about the potential conflicts of interest there might be where people involved had various capacities within the college.

It’s understood the Independent Alliance TD took issue with the line of questioning, and made statements on the issue to the media.

“Destabilising effect”

Halligan warned that such suggestions could have a “destabilising effect” on WIT when it is at a “critical point” of gaining university status.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said it is “astonishing” a minister would consider it appropriate to put out a statement that appears to “rap the knuckles of the PAC”.

“I want to know what we are going to do about that,” she asked the chair, Sean Fleming.

What I am querying here is that a minister deemed it appropriate to intervene in that way, I think it is completely inappropriate. I can’t imagine what he was thinking…

She said at a minimum, the committee should write to the minister and explain “we are doing our job and we will continue to do our job”.

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Sending out statements ‘willy-nilly’

“We need to stop this – what next? Every minister can willy-nilly fire out statements and attempt to undermine what has been very thorough work and very necessary work,” she said.

Fleming said because the statement came from a government department it was a serious issue.

“We are in an open society. Anybody, including a minister, is entitled to criticise our work… I think people have the right to criticise us – we are not above criticism.”

However, he said he wants clarification from John Halligan as to what he was referring to in his statement. If he cannot back up his remarks, he should withdraw them, said Fleming.

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