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Dáil warned pay hike for health department role will cause pressure for increases elsewhere

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Robert Watt has been appointed to the Department of Health role on an interim basis.

Robert Watt has been appointed to the Department of Health role on an interim basis.

Robert Watt has been appointed to the Department of Health role on an interim basis.

THE €81,000 pay increase for the position of Department of Health Secretary General will cause pressure to bring in such hikes elsewhere in the civil service, the Dáil has been told.

Waterford TD Matt Shanahan also questioned if the recruitment process will be fair due to what he claimed is a “significant advantage” conferred on Robert Watt the senior civil servant currently serving in the role.

Mr Watt has been appointed to the Department of Health role on an interim basis.

Former Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) boss Mr Watt remains on his current salary of €211,000 while a recruitment process takes place.

The proposed salary for the permanent holder of the job is to be €292,000.

Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin raised concerns at Cabinet about the substantial pay increase for the role.

Mr Shanahan has written to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to ask them to review the salary increase for the job.

The Independent TD raised the issue in the Dáil today saying it appears also that some Cabinet members were not made aware of the salary increases to be offered.

He also claimed: “Neither was cognisance given to the pressure that this would cause in promoting further pay hikes across the civil and public service at a time I might add when so many private businesses and employees are facing potential ruin [due to the Covid-19 crisis].”

He accused the Government of a “reactionary and rushed” decision to increase the pay for the role which he said was an “almost 50pc salary hike”.

Mr Shanahan added: “A Government backbencher told me the reason for the decision was that the Department of Health management was – as they put it – ‘dysfunctional’.”

He said he had sympathy for this narrative having seen how issues like the second cath lab for University Hospital Waterford were dealt with.

“I can believe that departmental dysfunction may be real.

“But in that case rather than just changing personnel does it not indicate a need for a real strategic and structural change in the department?” he asked.

He suggested the department could be broken up like the Department of Finance was after the last economic crisis leading to the creation of DPER.

Mr Shanahan added: “Instead of any strategic review of our health governance it appears this Government has taken the decision to react again in deciding that an overall position can be solved by a new appointment and a 50pc pay hike."

Mr Shanahan did not name Mr Watt but he claimed: “It is ironic also…that the preferred candidate for the position has been leading the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for many years and one presumes has supported the policy to oppose increased appointments and pay increases across medical, nursing and allied grades during the Covid crisis.”

Mr Shanahan asked what evaluation took place on the need to increase the salary.

He also said: “The appointment decision appears to favour a possible panel interview yet how can that be the case for a fair interview process when the candidate is holding the position on offer conferring significant advantage in final selection?”

PAC chairman, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, has said he will be asking committee members to consider the issue of the pay increase for the job as part of their programme of work for the coming Dáil term.

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