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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly seeks Attorney-General’s advice over Dr Tony Holohan’s botched Trinity College move

Former chief medical officer is writing his autobiography


Former chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture by Colin Keegan

Former chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture by Colin Keegan

Former chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan. Picture by Colin Keegan

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has sought the Attorney-General’s advice on a long-delayed report into the botched secondment of former chief medical officer Tony Holohan to Trinity College Dublin.

Mr Donnelly has had the report by former Institute of Directors chief Maura Quinn on his desk since last July, but has not been able to publish it due to concerns over affording due process and fair procedures to those involved in the controversy.

He commissioned it after the Department of Health secretary-general Robert Watt insisted in his own report on the debacle that there was “nothing unusual” about failing to tell Mr Donnelly the precise details of plans for Dr Holohan to become Professor of Public Health Strategy in Trinity while the department continued to pay his €187,000 salary.

Several government sources believe the highly unusual six-month delay in publishing Ms Quinn’s report is due to what one senior figure described as “resistance” to its findings from within the Department of Health, where Mr Watt, who was centrally involved in the Holohan secondment, is the most senior civil servant.

However, Mr Donnelly’s spokesperson insisted last night: “All of those involved in the review of the secondment have, at all times, fully co-operated with the process.”

Dr Holohan abandoned his plan to move to Trinity on his existing terms and conditions within weeks of it being announced last March. He retired from the civil service last summer after a major political backlash to the proposal.

The Sunday Independent can also reveal Dr Holohan is working on his autobiography, which is expected to provide a full account of the controversy concerning the Trinity appointment and detail his experiences as chief medical officer during the Covid-19 pandemic. The book will be published by the UK-based Bonnier Books in September.

It is understood that, notwithstanding the long delay, Mr Donnelly hopes to publish the Quinn report within the next month. He is said to be “very cautious” about ensuring those named in it are consulted before publication, which is why the Attorney-General was asked to examine its contents in recent weeks.

“The minister for health is anxious to publish the report as soon as it is possible,” a spokesperson said. “Any individuals named in the report are entitled to due process and fair procedures. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to comment until the process is complete and the report is published.”

Ms Quinn, who was asked to “determine learnings from the process” and “make recommendations that could inform future such initiatives”, gave her final report on the secondment debacle to Mr Donnelly last July 27.

Records released to the Sunday Independent show a flurry of email exchanges involving Mr Watt, Ms Quinn, Mr Donnelly and Dr Holohan last June and July while the report was being compiled.

The Department of Health has refused to release the emails under Freedom of Information law, citing concerns that their release could adversely impact its functions.

Ms Quinn originally submitted her report to Mr Donnelly last June 14. Records show Mr Watt sent two emails to Ms Quinn, Mr Donnelly and Dr Holohan that day.

Mr Donnelly and Ms Quinn then exchanged several emails over the following weeks before her final report was submitted.

One source said the minister is conscious that past external reports on controversies have been put into the public domain without every party to the matter being consulted, with the example of former justice minister Alan Shatter cited.

Mr Shatter resigned in May 2014 following the Guerin report into his handling of complaints by garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe. The Court of Appeal later ruled the report breached the Fine Gael TD’s right to fair procedures.

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