independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Reilly: HSE chief O'Brien can keep €160k wage top-up

Tony O'Brien 'took on new role'

HSE DIRECTOR general Tony O'Brien won't have to repay €160,000 in unsanctioned salary payments, after Health Minister James Reilly decided he can keep it.

Last night, a spokesman for Mr O'Brien said it would be "unjust to seek to have the money repaid", despite the payments not being approved by the Department of Health or the Department of Finance.

Dr Reilly and Mr O'Brien were last night accused of "double standards" given their expressions of outrage over the top-ups controversy in the Central Remedial Clinic and other voluntary hospitals in recent weeks.

In comments to the Irish Independent, Mr O'Brien, through his spokesman, said he took on a new role in 2006, which came with new salary terms and conditions.

FAILURE

"He received written confirmation of these new terms from the HSE.

"He was not aware until recently that the HSE had failed to properly process the new arrangement."

The spokesman added: "Had Tony O'Brien known that the arrangement had not been properly processed, he would have ensured that it was immediately rectified in order to correctly reflect the agreement.

"It would be unjust to seek to have the money repaid."

The spokesman said it was unjust because "the HSE at that time had approved the role".

"Tony entered into the role in good faith. He carried out his side of the arrangement fully and the failure of administration was not one of his making and one that he was unaware of until recently," the spokesman said.

The HSE spokesman added that Mr O'Brien's current role as director general has been sanctioned.

Dr Reilly said on Thursday that he would have to "familiarise" himself with how Mr O'Brien came to be in receipt of the payments.

Last night, the Department of Health said that it wouldn't be asking for any repayment of salary after carefully reviewing the circumstances of this case. When pressed for his response, a spokesman for Dr Reilly said he was "satisfied" with the outcome of the review.

Yesterday, the Irish Independent revealed that Mr O'Brien was in receipt of the unsanctioned payments, worth €25,000 a year over six years, because of an "administrative error" within the HSE.

Mr O'Brien, who was appointed as full-time director-general of the HSE earlier this year, received the annual payment while he was in a previous job as head of the National Cancer Screening Service.

Mr O'Brien received a total of about €160,000 over a six-year period and first received the extra payment when he took on additional responsibility as project director of a national plan for radiation oncology.

He was paid the yearly allowance from 2006 to 2012 – even though he moved to the HSE as assistant director in 2010, before being appointed in an acting role as head of the HSE last year – which was when the unsanctioned nature of the payment was discovered.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher was deeply critical of the news that Mr O'Brien would not be paying back any of the unsanctioned money.

"It is clear from this that those at the top of Government and the top of the HSE are engaging in double standards. It is incredible that Mr O'Brien was before the Public Accounts Committee expressing concern at the voluntary hospitals, while he himself was in receipt of these top-ups," he said.

Separately, it has emerged that the scheduled appearance by bosses of the Central Remedial Clinic before the PAC next Wednesday to discuss the controversial top-ups has been postponed for a least a week.

Daniel McConnell Political Correspondent

Irish Independent

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