Thursday 17 October 2019

Senior civil servant who criticised National Broadband Plan as 'unprecedented risk' declines to appear before Finance Committee

Robert Watt from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Robert Watt from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Hugh O’Connell

A SENIOR civil servant who has heavily criticised the National Broadband Plan has declined to appear today before an Oireachtas committee examining the matter.

Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt has told the Finance Committee that he had already attended the Budgetary Oversight Committee in relation to the controversial €3 billion plan to deliver high-speed broadband to rural Ireland.

Watt advised against the government proceeding with the plan last month, saying it represented an “unprecedented risk” to the state’s finances.

He told the Finance Committee in a letter sent last Thursday he will also be engaging with the Communications Committee on the matter therefore does not believe his attendance at a third committee is necessary.

“We assume that attendance at the above two committees is sufficient on this occasion,” Watt wrote in the letter.

The committee, which is chaired by Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness, responded to Watt to say the invitation stands with members keen to hear from Watt.. “The Chair has asked me to state that, while he notes the contents of your response, the invitation to the meeting still stands, and he hopes that you’ll be able to attend the meeting,” the committee clerk wrote back to Watt last Thursday.

However Watt spoke with the Finance Committee clerk by phone yesterday and told him his position had not changed and he will not attend today’s hearing.

Watt is now due to appear before the Communications Committee this afternoon, however the meeting with TDs and Senators will be in private session.

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