Robert Watt refuses to attend committee to discuss broadband

Senior civil servant says he is before another committee to discuss broadband next week

Robert Watt: ‘We assume that attendance at the above two committees is sufficient on this occasion’.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Robert Watt: ‘We assume that attendance at the above two committees is sufficient on this occasion’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure Robert Watt has said he will not appear at an Oireachtas committee today to discuss the national broadband plan.

Mr Watt, who has been highly critical of the plan, was expected to appear this afternoon.

In a letter to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance Mr Watt says he is scheduled to appear at another committee and believed this to be sufficient.

“I wish to advise you that both the Minister for Public Expenditure and Department officials have attended the budget oversight committee in relation to this matter.

“Furthermore, we are attending a meeting of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Change and Environment next week as part of the work stream it is undertaking on the national broadband plan entitled ‘an investigation to examine the national broadband plan thus far and how best to proceed and the best means to roll out rural broadband.’

“We assume that attendance at the above two committees is sufficient on this occasion.”

The Department of Public Expenditure has raised concerns about the broadband project over a period of months and despite efforts by the Department of Communications to assuage these worries, objections by officials who oversee public spending only hardened.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has denied he ignored the advice of officials on the National Broadband Plan but admitted that he wrestled “deeply” with the decision.

Mr Donohoe said he decided against his officials’ advice not to sign up to the current national broadband plan because on balance there are safeguards and contingencies in place to manage risk.