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Wednesday 21 February 2018

HSE chief who criticised top-ups defends his own €25k allowance

Tony O'Brien: allowance
Tony O'Brien: allowance

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

HEALTH Service Executive chief Tony O'Brien has defended his annual top-up of €25,314 – even though it was not formally sanctioned.

He has recently criticised the unsanctioned top-ups paid to some managers of voluntary hospitals and agencies.

But Mr O'Brien himself received an annual allowance of €25,314 between 2006 and 2012 – a total of €160,000 – even though it was not approved by the Department of Finance in breach of public service rules.

He was given the top-up when he was chief executive of the National Cancer Screening Service, which includes Breastcheck, and he took on extra responsibility as project director for the national plan for radiation oncology.


Several of the voluntary hospitals and agencies at the centre of the storm over salary top-ups, which have not been authorised by the Department of Public Expenditure, argued the extra allowances are to compensate managers for additional responsibilities, often in lieu of hiring someone new.

Questioned on the unsanctioned top-up given to Mr O' Brien over several years, his spokeswoman said he assumed "significant extra responsibilities" in the cancer area – which the allowance was intended to reflect. "At the time, Mr O' Brien was not an employee of the HSE but chief executive of the National Cancer Screening Service. On April 1 2010, this was subsumed by the HSE and staff, including Mr O' Brien who transferred to the HSE," she said. She said he "legally retained his terms and conditions of employment and remuneration and was transferred to a permanent position as associate director".

Asked if Mr O Brien – who now earns €185,350 – paid back any of the allowance as a "goodwill gesture", the spokeswoman declined to comment.

Letters sent last month to the voluntary hospitals and agencies currently paying top-ups asked that the outstanding money be repaid.

Mr O'Brien's spokeswoman also declined to comment on whether his acceptance of the allowance would compromise him at meetings with the heads of the hospitals and agencies due to take place from next week.

Mr O'Brien's top-up was examined by the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Health last year, confirming it has no formal sanction. The investigation said the overpayment was not the fault of Mr O'Brien.

The allowance only came to light as he was appointed as HSE director designate in August 2012, when the Department of Expenditure was asked to sanction his salary of €195,000.


Meanwhile, bosses at the Central Remedial Clinic are to be hauled before the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) next Wednesday, it has emerged.

Independent TD and PAC member Shane Ross said: "I sought today that they be called in as soon as possible. I spoke to the chairman and it has been agreed that they will come in next Wednesday. We have to get to the bottom of this mess."

It is expected that the PAC will examine how a company set up to support the CRC had a surplus of €14m last year, despite cuts to services for people with disabilities.

The committee is also set to examine how five senior staff at the CRC are still in receipt of top-up payments.

Irish Independent

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