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Sunday 26 March 2017

Reform chief 'stalling' Croke Park deal probe

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

THE chief civil servant in Brendan Howlin's Public Expenditure and Reform department is under fire for trying to stall a probe on the Croke Park deal.

A row has erupted after a Dail committee asked for a briefing on the savings being made from the body charged with monitoring reforms.

Secretary general at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt told the Public Accounts Committee that the Implementation Body, of which he is a member, is "not accountable" to it.

But in a letter to Mr Watt this week, seen by the Irish Independent, the committee strongly rejected his claims and insisted it would forge ahead with the investigation.

The war of words came after the Dail committee told Mr Howlin's department it was inviting the chair of the Implementation Body, PJ Fitzpatrick, to appear before it.

Mr Watt suggested that the body -- made up of senior civil servants from Mr Howlin's department and union officials -- was not open to scrutiny.

In a letter earlier this month, he said it was "not accountable" to the committee "in a formal sense" because it was "a component of a voluntary industrial relations agreement".

He said Mr Fitzpatrick might give them a briefing, but only after the body publishes its second Annual Progress Report, which will not be available until late May or early June.

In its reply last Wednesday, the committee rejected his claim and told Mr Watt it has pencilled in March 1 as a provisional date for the briefing.

It asked him to confirm that Mr Fitzpatrick would attend on that date.

"The committee does not accept your view that this body is not accountable to the committee," said the letter.

"It is the view of the committee, given the onus that has been placed on the Croke Park agreement to deliver savings, that the Implementation Body should be answerable to the committee for the systems, procedures and practices employed by the body," it says.

Committee chairman John McGuinness accused Mr Watt of putting up "roadblocks" to delay its work.

"When we told Mr Watt we were going to invite Mr Fitzpatrick in, he more or less told us it wasn't our business.

"Mr Watt says this body -- which comes under his department's remit -- is not accountable, but they are. Where is the transparency and what other body is it more correct for them to appear before?"

Irish Independent

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