Tony Holohan secondment should be paused until report received – Taoiseach

Micheál Martin said the appointment should wait until he receives a report from Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly on Monday
Tony Holohan secondment should be paused until report received – Taoiseach

Handout photo issued by Julien Behal Photography of Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer speaking to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin. Issue date: Friday December 17, 2021.

The Taoiseach has said the planned academic role for Dr Tony Holohan should be paused and “reassessed”.

Micheál Martin said the appointment should wait until he receives a report from Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly on Monday.

It emerged earlier this week that chief medical officer Dr Holohan is being seconded to an academic post at Trinity College Dublin on his existing salary of 187,000 euro, which the Department of Health will fund.

The Government has been dogged by questions in recent days over the move, including why the department is funding the secondment.

It was confirmed last month that he will stand down as chief medical officer and take up the position of professor of public health strategy and leadership.

However, Mr Martin has now said the move should be paused.

Speaking in Helsinki, Finland, Mr Martin said: “There has to be transparency, there has to be good process and procedure. I don’t see this as just a human resource issue, or a personnel issue in its own right, which I can understand.

“But there was a research perspective to this. There’s a more medium-term perspective to this and in my view it should be paused, there should be a reassessment as to how the objectives that are behind this can be realised in a better and more transparent way.” 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the Government needs to see all the documents that will form the bulk of the report, adding “no-one in government is happy” about how the appointment emerged.

“The Taoiseach has sought a report on this,” Mr Varadkar said in Dublin on Friday. “I don’t think that will take a long time to put together, it might just be a couple of days, and then we’ll be able to decide what to do next.

“It does involve taxpayers’ money and it would appear that it involves an additional expenditure of taxpayers’ money because there will be a CMO and that CMO will be paid, and they’ll also be in this new position.

“Because it creates a new position and therefore a new cost on the taxpayer, that does matter and that’s why the Taoiseach has sought a report on it so that we can assure ourselves that procedures were followed correctly.” Mr Varadkar acknowledged the process could have been “better handled”.

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The head of the Department of Health, Robert Watt, approved the secondment to Trinity College, however Mr Donnelly was not made aware of the decision.

Mr Varadkar added: “There is actually a very clear divisional responsibility in Government departments, so the minister is the political head in charge of policy, in charge with everything to do with the Dail and legislation and so on.

“The secretary-general is actually involved in personnel matters. I have served in many Government departments, I would never have been personally in promotions or demotions or transfers, that is very much the role of the general secretary.

“But the Taoiseach decided the appointment should be paused, he wants to find out exactly what happened and what procedures and processes were followed, and I think that is the right decision.

“When I heard about it, I assumed the job came up and he applied for it and got it and that is what happened.

“It was several days later that we found that there was more to it than that.

“Nobody in Government is happy about this because even though we were not involved in any way, inevitably these things do reflect on us, because we’re the politicians in charge, and that’s why the Taoiseach took the decision to pause the appointment until we got a full report, and get a proper understanding as to what happened here and whether the procedures were followed properly.” John McGuinness, chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance Public Expenditure and Reform, said a number of questions remain about the secondment.

He said the committee has “serious concerns” over the process of the appointment and that Mr Donnelly was not told.

“There is the issue of the pay scale in the college, which is 150,000 euro per professor and the department will now be paying Dr Holohan 187,000 euro,” Mr McGuiness told RTÉ Morning Ireland.

“That raises questions about public service policy.”

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