By Dominic McGrath, PA
The chief medical officer and the top civil servant at the Department of Health are set to attend the Oireachtas Health Committee next week.
Dr Tony Holohan and Robert Watt will be grilled by politicians next Wednesday over the botched appointment of the CMO to a professor role in Trinity College Dublin.
The controversy has dogged the Department of Health and the Government for several weeks and shows no signs of abating, with the Oireachtas Finance Committee on Wednesday initiating the process that would see it receive the power to compel Mr Watt to appear before it.
The chair of the Finance Committee, John McGuinness, was highly critical of Taoiseach Micheal Martin, senior government ministers and civil servants over its handling of the appointment.
Mr Watt has been accused of snubbing the committee.
Dr Holohan decided against taking up a proposed secondment to Trinity College Dublin after a dispute over the transparency of the process that would have seen the state pay his annual salary of 187,000 euro through competitive research funding, administered by the Health Research Board.
An external review has been commissioned.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that he will be “happy to attend Committee when he receives the independent report he commissioned in a few weeks’ time”.
Members of the Finance committee agreed on Wednesday to seek the powers compelling Mr Watt to appear, ahead of hearing from Secretary General in the Department of the Taoiseach, Martin Fraser.
It came following a proposal from Sinn Fein TDs Pearse Doherty and Mairead Farrell.
Mr Fraser took questions on the controversy on Wednesday afternoon.
At that meeting, Mr Doherty said: “We have had, for the first time, to seek compellability as another Secretary General is refusing to attend this committee at this point in time.”
An Oireachtas spokesperson said: “The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach has agreed to apply for compellability powers in regard to this matter.”
The process to compel witnesses is not granted to every Oireachtas committee and the request will start a complex process of parliamentary procedure that will include a vote in the Dail and the Seanad and a specific application to the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight.
Mr Martin in the Dail yesterday expressed concern about what he called a “witch hunt” against Mr Watt.
Those comments were the subject of serious criticism by chair of the finance committee on Wednesday.
Mr McGuinness, a Fianna Fail TD, said that the apparent refusal of Mr Watt to appear before the committee set a “most awful example” to junior civil servants.
“There is no dispute between the health committee and the finance committee. There is a clear line of responsibility between both committees.”
“It is regrettable the Taoiseach used the word witch hunt,” he said.
“It is about accountability and transparency,” he told Mr Fraser and his committee colleagues.
It was, he added, about “pursuing it in a constructive, courteous manner to get to the truth of the matter”.