HEALTH Minister James Reilly is to be quizzed by external auditors on what role he played in awarding a doctors' union chief a potential €25m pay and pensions package.
Dr Reilly, as a working GP, was on the four-man remuneration committee of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in 2003 which has emerged as central in sanctioning the gold-plated deal for former chief executive George McNeice.
Enraged doctors were left stunned as the huge sums were discussed at a special meeting organised by the IMO to placate anger over the weekend.
More than 100 have already resigned their membership as a result.
Mr McNeice (51) was on a salary of nearly €500,000 when he retired in October.
The salary was due to jump to between €550,000 and €560,000 this year – pushing up his defined benefit pension entitlement to around €25m.
It also emerged over the weekend that Mr McNeice was receiving a separate payment of €60,000 a year from a financial services' agency set up by the IMO for doctors.
Although the final settlement was negotiated down to nearly €10m, he walked away with a lump-sum payment of €1.5m, a pension fund of €4.5m and payments to be made each year for 16 years to the value of €3.6m.
IMO president Dr Paul McKeown confirmed that an external team of auditors was to be asked to investigate how the deal, which only became known to senior doctors on the union's management committee last year, was arrived at.
Dr Cormac Macnamara, the chairman of the remuneration committee in 2003, has since died but in a letter at the time, he claimed it was sanctioned by the other members, who included Dr Reilly and Dr Fenton Howell.
This is disputed by other members of the remuneration committee and it is unclear if it ever met.
Dr McKeown confirmed Dr Reilly had been contacted by union officials about his level of knowledge but he did not divulge the minister's reply.
Speaking after the meeting in Mullingar, he said: "We will be asking all members of the remuneration committee to feed into this process."
Asked if that would include Dr Reilly, he said: "I hope so, yes." A spokesman for Dr Reilly said last night that the minister would give any assistance he could to the IMO on the matter.
Under the 2003 deal, Mr McNeice was on a basic salary of €250,000 but he was entitled to two bonuses annually – one of 30pc and another of 33pc for exceptional performance.
Both these bonuses were paid in full up to 2008 and some also became part of his basic salary, which was nearly €500,000 by 2008.
A pay freeze was agreed by all IMO staff in 2008 but it was agreed that Mr McNeice could claim any bonuses retrospectively. Under the deal, he could retire with three years' salary between the ages of 52 and 55.
Mr McNeice declined to comment yesterday.
One doctor who attended the meeting, which ran for nearly six hours, described the payments as something akin to what the "king of Saudi Arabia" could expect.
Dr Jim Molloy, a GP in Limerick city, said doctors were "shocked and angry" at the revelations and described the figures as "mind-boggling".
Westport GP Dr Oliver White said doctors were little wiser. "It's all clear as mud. I don't know if we will ever get to the bottom of it," he said.