Stockbroker hosted top civil servant at gala event
Goodbody's guest was seated with semi-state chiefs ahead of asset sale
ONE of the key civil servants who is currently involved in the sale of state assets attended a lavish dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel as a guest of one of the country's leading stockbroking firms two weeks ago.
Secretary General at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt, accepted an invitation from Goodbody Stockbrokers to the annual dinner of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, which was held at the five-star hotel on Thursday, February 9.
The news of Mr Watt's attendance at the event comes at an especially sensitive time for the Government, given its major announcement last week of its intention to press ahead with the sale of State assets.
As Secretary General at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr Watt is poised to play a central role in the process that will see some of Ireland's biggest state-owned companies being sold off.
Further questions in relation to Mr Watt's acceptance of hospitality from a firm that may yet seek to become involved in the disposal of these assets will now surely arise, given the identities and positions of the individuals whom he sat next to at the dinner.
According to the official seating arrangements from the night, which have been seen by the Sunday Independent, Mr Watt was joined at table 23 in the Four Seasons ballroom by the head of Goodbody's corporate finance division, Brian O'Kelly, as well as by the ESB's group finance director, Donal Flynn, and Coillte chief executive David Gunning.
Both the ESB and Coillte feature prominently in the list of State assets that the Government is now considering offering for sale to private investors.
There is no suggestion that the Government's possible intentions in relation to the future of either the ESB or Coillte came up for discussion on the night.
The Irish Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour states that civil servants should not accept benefits "which might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgement or integrity".
More specifically, the civil service code goes on to state that: "The overriding concern is that the actions of civil servants be above suspicion and not give rise to any actual or potential conflict of interest, and that their dealings with commercial and other interests should bear the closest possible scrutiny."
Asked by the Sunday Independent if it was appropriate for Mr Watt to attend the Four Seasons function, in view of the regulations set down in the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour, a spokesman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said: "The department is fully satisfied that Mr Watt's attendance at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce AGM dinner is fully acceptable and in keeping with the code.
"The minister and the Government encourage the engagement of senior officials with business people in an open and transparent way."
Also in attendance at the event were ministers Simon Coveney and Pat Rabbitte.
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