Pay underperforming civil servants to leave, says senior official

Robert Watt wants to be able to ‘manage out’ underperforming staff and ‘move things on’

One of the State’s most senior officials has said he would like to have the power to “manage out” underperforming civil servants by paying them off.

Robert Watt, secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure, told the Oireachtas finance committee he would like to be able to “move things on”, by reaching settlements with underperforming officials that would see them agree to leave the civil service.

He said the option was available to managers in the private sector, but it was difficult to deal with underperformance in the public sector.

“We have systems to reward people . . . but people who don’t perform, it’s very difficult,” he said.“It’s worth having a debate about it.”


Fob in

Asked about his view on the system which allows TDs to fob in but does not record the time at which they do so, and enables them to work elsewhere, Mr Watt was unwilling to comment, saying he would “probably be fired” if he did.

“I don’t have any views that I’m prepared to share publicly,” Mr Watt said when asked about the system that governs TDs expenses. “The clerk of the Dáil is the accounting officer for that.”

Mr Watt said a similar system was in place for dealing with attendance for civil servants in his department, which was used to monitor their attendance.

Mr Watt also said politics and public debate had become “quite mean-spirited”, with a “gotcha culture” which was making it harder to recruit people to high-ranking positions in the civil service.


“There is a coarseness to public debate,” he said. “Their motivations are questioned . . . there’s a lack of perspective, a lack of context . . . There’s a debasing of politics generally.”

Mr Watt would not be drawn on his views on the broadband contract, which he had fiercely criticised before it was approved and signed by the Government. “It’s my job to give advice,” he said. “It’s the Taoiseach’s and Ministers’ and the Cabinet’s job to make decisions . . . It’s now government policy and I’ve nothing further to add.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times