Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has described Dr Tony Holohan's new role as Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at Trinity College Dublin as a "really positive move" which he fully supports.
Dr Holohan announced last month that he is stepping down from his position as chief medical officer to take on the new role. He will remain a civil servant and his €187,000-a-year salary will be paid by the Department of Health.
Minister Donnelly said that Dr Holohan will be leading up research at TCD on what in healthcare is going to be one of the most important areas for years to come.
It is all public money.
He stated that regardless of whether TCD or the Department of Health funds the salary of Dr Holohan "it is all public money".
"Remember Dr Holohan could if he wanted obviously stay in his role as CMO and stay within the Department of Health for many years to come. He has done an excellent job. I think there is very broad support for the work he does."
He said the Department of Health plans to fund the role in TCD because the department, and the country, is going to benefit "very greatly" out of this.
"What Tony is going to be doing is that he is going to be leading national research on pandemic preparedness. He is probably uniquely qualified given his role as CMO, given everything he has done in the pandemic.
He will be organising collaborations across universities with the World Health Organisation and with the EU.
"He is probably uniquely qualified in Ireland to do this. It is incredibly important work. Ultimately the winners out of this are the State in that we have someone with his experience who can lead this."
Minister Donnelly said that he did not sign off on this move as it is a secondment and there are "secondments across the public sector all the time".
"But it is certainly something I was made aware of about two weeks ago that this move was going to be happening. And I fully support the move.
"Tony was looking for a new challenge. I think we are very lucky. Given his role and his experience he is a highly employable individual.
"We are very lucky to have him leading this research. It is what the Asian countries did after SARS. And from this we are going to be as prepared as possible for another pandemic. So I think we are all in a good position having Tony do this research."
Minister Donnelly said he was not sure if there were others within the Department of Health who were working within universities and having their salary paid by the Department.
"But there are plenty of people working in the Department of Health who have been seconded in from different parts of the public sector and indeed there are Department of Health officials who are working in other departments in the public sector. So that is quite normal."
He stressed that a move to a university was not "that different".
"We have consultants that the HSE fund in universities all the time. There is a very close collaboration between healthcare and academia. For all the obvious reasons.
"Tony is going to be involved now in helping educate future public health leaders. We have consultants in many hospitals throughout the country who have academic posts who are involved in research, who are involved in training new clinicians. So there is very close linkage between healthcare and academia in Ireland and all around the world."
Minister Donnelly was asked why the nature of the arrangement wasn't made clear when the appointment was announced. He admitted that this was a "fair enough" point, but he emphasised that what was important was the nature of the role and research which is to be undertaken by Dr Holohan.
"I presume that is what the statement was focusing on. As I said secondments in the public sector, secondments between health and academia are very regular and normal and healthy things. "
He refuted suggestions that the Department will be in effect paying for two chief medical officers.
"No we are not. I think this is important that we have absolute clarity. There is one chief medical officer and there will be one chief medical officer.
"Let's say the Department were to pay or Trinity were to pay, or they were to pay some each. It's all public money. It is a taxpayer funded post.
"I think one of the details that is very important here is that he is not getting paid any more money. All that happening is that he is staying on the same terms and conditions but instead of that we are moving to a really positive position to have a new CMO come in, and we have a guy uniquely qualified to lead rsearch in to future pandemic responsiveness. I really think this is a positive move. "