Department of Health civil servant refuses to answer questions over €292,000 salary

Secretary general Robert Watt has refused to say if he is still waiving an €81,000 salary increase
Department of Health civil servant refuses to answer questions over €292,000 salary

Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt has refused to say if he is still waiving an €81,000 salary increase he got when he was appointed to the job.

Mr Watt was asked about the €292,000 salary at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday.

However, he said he was not answering the question as it was not what he was before TDs to discuss, citing rules that limit what committee members can ask.

Questions have been raised before over the processes involved in Mr Watt’s appointment to the job on an interim basis last January pending an open competition for the permanent role.

A report, published last month, found that the interim appointment and salary increase were arranged in an “ad hoc fashion following discussions among a small number of senior officials and members of the Government”.

Mr Watt, a former secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, was successful in the competition for the permanent role at the Department of Health and was appointed in April.

Mr Watt said at the time he would waive what amounted to an €81,000 salary increase over his previous pay “until the economy begins to recover and unemployment falls”.

'Appropriate and warranted'

At the PAC, Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy asked him if he is continuing to waive the salary increase and whether he believes the overall €292,000 salary is “appropriate and warranted”.

Mr Watt said he was asked to go to the PAC to talk about the Department of Health’s 2020 accounts, a value for money review relating to nursing homes and the National Children’s Hospital project.

Committee chairman Brian Stanley said: “If you’re happy enough to answer the question from the deputy I’d ask you to”, but added: “You don’t have to answer it either.”

Mr Watt replied: “So you’re allowing the question to stand chair, is that what you’re saying? So I can answer the question or not. I wasn’t brought here to talk about these matters.”

He added: “Your standing orders I think are very clear about this matter now, about what I’m asked and what I’m not allowed to be asked. So I’m not answering the question.”

Mr Stanley said: “That’s okay.” Mr Watt said: “I’ve commented on this before and I have no further comment to make on it.”

Another Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster later said in her contribution it was “a bit of a touchy subject there Mr Watt, in relation to your salary”.

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