Stephen Donnelly will face scrutiny over Tony Holohan controversy, says Taoiseach

Micheál Martin was forced to defend the Minister for Health and the secretary general of the Department of Health in the Dáil on Tuesday.
Stephen Donnelly will face scrutiny over Tony Holohan controversy, says Taoiseach

By Dominic McGrath, PA

The Minister for Health is not dodging scrutiny over the botched appointment of Dr Tony Holohan to a role in Trinity College Dublin, the Taoiseach has said.

Micheál Martin was forced to defend Stephen Donnelly, as well as the secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt, over accusations the pair were declining to attend an Oireachtas committee to face questions over the controversy.

Dr Tony Holohan decided against taking up a proposed secondment to Trinity College after a dispute over the transparency of the process that would have seen the state pay his annual salary of €187,000 through competitive research funding, administered by the Health Research Board.

An external review has been commissioned.

But opposition parties have accused Mr Donnelly and Mr Watt of making a mockery of parliamentary scrutiny by declining to attend the Oireachtas Finance Committee to take questions over the controversy.

Speaking before a Cabinet meeting earlier, Mr Donnelly said he would appear before the committee once the review had been completed and a report submitted.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil: “The minister and indeed Robert Watt himself refuse to come before the committee and the committee has now written for a second time to the secretary general of the Department of Health.

“I have to say that this makes a mockery of the business that we do.

Coronavirus – Fri May 7, 2021
Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, decided against taking up a proposed secondment to Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

“It is wholly unacceptable that a minister of the government (and) a senior civil servant, not alone refuses to co-operate with the committee of this house, but act to actively frustrate its work.

“So we need a response, a substantive response from the Taoiseach on this matter to make it very clear to his own ministerial team and, perhaps more importantly, to the public administration, to senior civil servants, to Mr Robert Watt himself that he has no authority and has no role in frustrating the work of any committee.”

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy also raised the issue.

“Who’s running this country? Is it your government, or is it the permanent government?” she asked the Taoiseach.

“We know the secretary general for the Department of Health is in a rarefied position, not least because his pay grade is above yours.

“But does that mean that he can snub his nose at attending Oireachtas committees and decline to be held accountable for decisions he takes?”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the committee had written to the secretary general of the Department of Health for a second time. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Mr Martin said that the health minister would be attending the Finance Committee.

“There’s no question of that, he will go before the committee. He has said there is no question of him refusing to go before the committee of the house,” he told opposition TDs.

“He has helpfully suggested that there’s an external review, which members of this house asked for.

“When that happens, it is a better conversation will be had before the committee.”

Turning to Mr Watt, the Fianna Fáil leader said: “I don’t like the witch hunt nature of the approach that’s been adopted.”

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