Business Irish

Saturday 16 December 2017

Civil servant accused of 'political intervention'

Secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt, second from right, at the National Economic Dialogue. Photo: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
Secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Robert Watt, second from right, at the National Economic Dialogue. Photo: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Top civil servant Robert Watt has been accused of being "out of order" during the National Economic Dialogue after he urged one contributor to point out the positives about the country.

Mr Watt intervened in the discussion at Dublin Castle yesterday to tell Dr Sean Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland, that he should provide data as opposed to "supposition".

Dr Healy had earlier said a presentation showing that Ireland was listed 11th in a global ranking focused on social progress wasn't credible, claiming it doesn't reflect the experience of many Irish people.

"All we have to do is think in terms of social housing waiting lists, education models in primary and third level, healthcare waiting lists, trolleys in hospitals, affordable childcare and lack of affordable childcare, rural broadband," Dr Healy said at the National Economic Dialogue at Dublin Castle.

"I could spend my whole [allocated speaking time of] three minutes listing out things.

"But more importantly, the results are not consistent with the sustainable progress index," which Dr Healy said compared Ireland to other EU countries, and has been developed to show how we are performing on the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Published earlier this year, it ranked Ireland 11th out of 15 EU countries.

But Mr Watt, secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), urged Dr Healy to provide data, saying we needed to have a "facts-based discussion".

"It's unfair to say that people haven't benefited from the recovery," he said, adding the numbers at work had risen.

"Bring your data, let's see your data, as opposed to supposition," Mr Watt said.

Dr Healy responded by saying the reply by Mr Watt was "uninformed".

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"We are much further down than [the Social Progress] index suggests. When we make a proposal, or make a criticism, it is based on the data," Dr Healy said.

"I didn't say that nobody has benefited ... I simply said that there are a whole stack of people that don't recognise this progress that is being identified.

"What we're simply saying is that the country is in danger of polarising because it is failing to understand the experience of life that is the reality for an awful lot of people."

Mr Watt replied by saying he would like to see Dr Healy "point out some positive things in the country".

"What are the positive things happening in relation to education, infrastructure, improvements in the labour market?" Mr Watt said.

"I'd be very interested to hear your perspective on things that are going well."

He said Irish people are living the longest and healthiest lives ever.

"Let's have a debate which is informed by the data."

In response, Dr Healy said he wasn't going to spend two of his three allocated minutes at the National Economic Dialogue to talk about "all the things that are good about Ireland".

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who was also at the event, accused Mr Watt on Twitter of being "out of order".

"R Watt Gen Sec (DPER) way out of order making political intervention at National Economic Dialogue."

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