Watt to appear before Oireachtas committee for questions on Holohan secondment

Mr McGuinness spoke of his “serious concerns” about how the secondment of Dr Holohan to Trinity College Dublin was handled by the Secretary General of the Department.
Watt to appear before Oireachtas committee for questions on Holohan secondment

Olivia Kelleher

The Chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform John McGuinness has said that the Department of Health Secretary General, Robert Watt, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, will be asked before the committee to answer questions on the secondment of Dr Tony Holohan.

In an interview on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1, Mr McGuinness spoke of his “serious concerns” about how the secondment of Dr Holohan to Trinity College Dublin was handled by the Secretary General of the Department.

“It is quite a mess within the Department. It shows a certain dysfunction within the department, and we need to clarify it.

"I have serious concerns about how the Department reached the decision in relation to all of this and also the fact that the Minister (of Health) was not informed. Minister McGrath was not informed.

Why there was so much secrecy around it?

"There are still a lot of questions as to how this position was created was funded. Why there was so much secrecy around it? Why the Department refused to answer questions from the very beginning.

"It shows a very poor performance in terms of management from the Secretary General of the Department and there are questions that need to be put to him and need to be clarified.”

Dr Holohan announced last month that he is stepping down from his position as chief medical officer (CMO) to take on the new role at Trinity College Dublin.

He will remain a civil servant and his €187,000 a year salary will be paid by the Department of Health.

A private meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health yesterday heard that Mr Watt signed off on the controversial secondment of Dr Holohan to a role at Trinity College Dublin.

Mr McGuinness said that every Secretary General has a responsibility to appear before Oireachtas committees.

“Mr Watt will be asked after the Easter recess but during the recess we will be making arrangements for that to happen. And Minister McGrath will also be asked before the committee. And indeed if the Minister of Health had a role in this well we will need to know what that is too.

"But this cannot continue in terms of the management of any department. The Minister must be informed and there are certain guidelines and so on that need to be followed relative to appointments like this."

Earlier this week Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told RTÉ Radio that Dr Holohan’s new role was a Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at Trinity College Dublin as a “really positive move” which he fully supports.

Yesterday Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer called for "accountability and transparency" in relation to Dr Tony Holohan's new role at Trinity College Dublin.

'Accountability and transparency'

Senator Buttimer told the Claire Byrne Show on RTÉ Radio 1, that the handling of the situation by the Department of Health has been "absolutely appalling."

"Tony Holohan has given the State huge service, and we thank him for that. It is not personal. But this is about accountability and transparency.

"From my understanding there is a board of management in the Department (of Health) that are the executive of the running of the Department and I find it unbelievable that the Minister for Health wasn't told until Tuesday (that the Holohan post was a secondment).

"Why was that the case number one? Why didn't the Secretary General tell his Minister? And thirdly why now at the beginning were we not told that this is a secondment?"

Senator Buttimer said that it was assumed that the position of CMO was being advertised because Dr Holohan was retiring.

"And then we discover it is a secondment. Then this morning we discover we are going to work in collaboration with the head of research with the universities which we all think is a great idea. But clarity is required on the process.

Who authorised it? Was the job advertised? Why are Trinity College not paying the salary of a person who is now not going back to the job. It is not a secondment. We need to know why this wasn't communicated in the manner it should have been to the Taoiseach and the Minister."

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