Robert Watt ‘regrets’ that Tony Holohan secondment to TCD will not go ahead

The secretary general of the Department of Health is to tell a committee that he believed the secondment was in line with Government policy
Robert Watt ‘regrets’ that Tony Holohan secondment to TCD will not go ahead

By Dominic McGrath and Grainne Ni Aodha, PA

The secretary general of the Department of Health will tell the Oireachtas Health Committee of his “regret” that the appointment of the chief medical officer to a professor role will not now go ahead.

Robert Watt will appear before the committee on Wednesday to discuss the botched appointment of Dr Tony Holohan to a role at Trinity College Dublin.

Dr Holohan is also due to appear before the committee alongside Mr Watt.

In his opening statement, seen by the PA news agency, Mr Watt will tell politicians that he believed “when we conceived this proposal that it was essential that we continued to harness Dr Holohan’s knowledge and skills in the public interest and I regret that this will no longer be possible”.

He will also tell the committee that he believed the proposed new role “was in line with the Government’s commitment to investing in public health, as outlined in the Programme for Government”.

“As such, and as required, funding of research in this regard by the Department would form part of the normal Estimates process, subject to ministerial and Cabinet approval.”

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 through competitive research funding, administered by the Health Research Board.

Mr Watt is to tell the committee that after initial discussions with Dr Holohan in August last year about his future, the proposal for a professorship “emerged”, with the aim of keeping Dr Holohan’s “experience and skillset” within the public service.

On February 25th, Dr Holohan requested Mr Watt’s support to progress a secondment to a Dublin university, according to Mr Watt.

“Given his long and distinguished service, and the crucial knowledge and ability he brought to bear in the pandemic, I felt it was equally important that Dr Holohan’s expertise be retained and utilised in the public sector,” he will tell the committee.

A letter of intent was issued to Trinity College on March 16th with draft details of the proposal, with further details to be arranged between Trinity College and the Department of Health, Mr Watt is to say.

“The Department considered that the funding of Dr Holohan’s post was something that needed to be worked out, but that the Department would support the development of this innovative approach to progressing an important initiative through dedicated additional research funding.”

Dr Holohan will vacate the role of CMO from July 1st. Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn will stand in as acting CMO from then until the role is filled.

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