Wednesday 17 July 2019

Profile: Civil servant is seen as a reformer - but will he be able to fend off Donnery?

The Central Bank of Ireland headquarters on North Wall Quay, Dublin (Stock picture)
The Central Bank of Ireland headquarters on North Wall Quay, Dublin (Stock picture)
Gavin McLoughlin

Gavin McLoughlin

Robert Watt is one of Ireland's most senior civil servants. He has been secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) since 2011.

Dubliner Mr Watt, who is in his late 40s, was expected to get the Central Bank governorship last time around, but was ultimately pipped to the post by Professor Philip Lane.

Prof Lane's impending departure will create a vacancy again, with Mr Watt and Central Bank deputy governor Sharon Donnery seen as the main contenders. Financial news agency Bloomberg reported earlier this week that Mr Watt was considering throwing his hat in the ring once again.

Mr Watt's near-decade of experience running the large organisation that is the DPER would be seen as an advantage when it comes to taking over the Central Bank.

He in an experienced economist, having worked in the private sector for Indecon and London Economics. That private sector experience has lent weight to his reputation as a reformer within the civil service.

He has publicly called for more productivity and been critical of some civil service practices. A robust operator, he has shown himself to be unafraid of getting into arguments, having once locked horns with Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland at a public event.

He was also closely involved in the management of the Troika programme - an obviously complex and difficult project which would also be seen to have boosted his managerial CV.

Mr Watt has a lot on his plate at the moment, having to contend with cost overruns at the National Children's Hospital and Brexit. Sorting out nurses' pay has also been a recent challenge.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe will ultimately nominate the new governor.

He will have worked closely with Mr Watt ever since becoming Public Expenditure and Reform Minister in 2016. In the end, Mr Donohoe may decide it's better to leave Mr Watt in situ to tackle the DPER's challenges.

Irish Independent

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