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Sec Gen accused of calling committee 'a mob', Robert Watt says he didn't recall and did not mean to offend

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said there is a level of contempt being shown to Oireachtas committees.

Secretary General Robert Watt
Secretary General Robert Watt

SECRETARY GENERAL OF Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DEPR), Robert Watt, has said he did not mean to cause offence to committee members by referring to them as a “mob”. 

Members of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) were not happy today when reports filtered through from a journalist’s tweet that Watt, who was due to appear before the committee, said the chairperson “has to control the mob”. 

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane referred to the tweet before Watt took his seat at the committee today, stating that it was “unacceptable”. 

“I think that is outrageous,” he said. 

watt Source: @Ocionnaith

When Watt took his seat, he was questioned about his remarks outside the committee room, and asked if he did say the above remark. 

Watt hesitated and said “if anyone takes offence to what I said I apologise”. He was asked whether he did say the comment a few minutes prior outside the committee room. 

Watt replied: “I don’t recall saying it… I don’t recollect to be honest.”

He then added: “It is a colloquial expression… if I said something to offend, it was not meant to offend.”

Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell said he was disappointed with Watt’s comments outside the committee room, stating: 

“I don’t consider a colloquial expression like that to be helpful and it is unbecoming of your office.”

Watt sighed openly when Independent TD Catherine Connolly questioned the secretary general over the comment again, asking if he said it or not, and whether he will speak to the journalist who tweeted the remark if it is not true. 

“If I said it I apologise for that and that was not meant to be offensive in any way,” he said, adding again that he did not have “any recollection” of what he said 45 minutes previous. 

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said she did not want to labour the point, but added that the remark “didn’t get this meeting off to a good start”. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Today’s meeting got off to a bumpy start today, after members were only told last night that the Chief Procurement Officer Paul Quinn would not be appearing before them.

Quinn was due to face questioning over his role and oversight of the National Children#’s Hospital  (NCH). He sat on the hospital board, though Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has stated that he did so on a personal capacity. 

This has been widely disputed by the opposition, who state that a department circular states that Quinn was obliged to report back to his line minister about any concerns relating to the project. 

Members of the committee were outraged today when the committee chair Sean Fleming said Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, informed him that Quinn would not be attending today. 

Fleming said that Watt is the accounting officer, and therefore he is the only one accountable to the committee. He said the decision for Quinn not to attend is at Watt’s behest. 

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said there is a level of contempt being shown to Oireachtas committees, while Fianna Fáil’s Marc McSharry said “two fingers” were being given to the committee, along with a message of “we’ll do what we want, when we want”. 

He added that they were living in a “virtual dictatorship” where there is no accountability to the public about the waste of taxpayers’ money. 

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, who originally sought the attendance of Quinn, said that it is entirely within the committee’s remit to question processes and the failure of processes, in this case, the NCH. 

Fleming said, that as far as he can recall, there has never been an incidence of an official refusing to attend the committee, who added that he felt it was disrespectful that the committee only heard last night that Quinn would not be attending. 

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