Sunday 17 December 2017

Favourite Watt pipped to post in break from norm

Robert Watt
Robert Watt
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

There were a few raised eyebrows when the name of the new governor of the Central Bank was announced on Monday - and it wasn't that of senior civil servant Robert Watt.

The Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was touted as the frontrunner to replace Patrick Honohan; upon arrival into the Dáil Bar on Budget night last week Watt was greeted with some ribbing about the impending appointment, which he took with good humour, while issuing no strenuous denials to the contrary.

The Dublin-born Watt has strong links to the Labour Party. He became involved with the party while in UCD, canvassing for Derek McDowell in Dublin North Central.

While studying for his master in economics, he struck up a friendship with Ronan O'Brien, later to become advisor to Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

After a few years in the Department of Finance in the 1990s, he resigned in 2000 and became a consultant for Indecon and London Economics.

He returned to the finance department in 2008, and worked very closely with then-minister Brian Lenihan as Assistant Secretary General, where he worked on the budgetary process.

When the Fine Gael-Labour coalition was in negotiations in 2011, Watt impressed senior politicians during talks on the Programme for Government, and was subsequently hand-picked by Brendan Howlin to head up the new department.

Watt and Howlin have developed a close working relationship, although the former's pugnacious style has occasionally raised hackles among his fellow Secretary Generals.

In a speech in summer 2014, he said he would welcome a debate on making it easier to sack public sector workers. However, although Minister Howlin strongly backed him for the plum post in the Central Bank, Finance Minister Michael Noonan took the decision to appoint the other candidate, eminent academic consultant Philip Lane.

Robert Watt had been tipped for the job, on the basis he is a trained economist with experience of running a complex organisation. However, the choice of the highly-regarded Professor Lane is regarded as a decisive departure from appointing a top civil servant to run the bank.

Irish Independent

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