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Robert Watt's report on the Tony Holohan job fiasco reveals salary funds were not in place


Dr Holohan has hinted that he will take up a role in the private sector. Photo: Julian Behal Photography

Dr Holohan has hinted that he will take up a role in the private sector. Photo: Julian Behal Photography

Dr Holohan has hinted that he will take up a role in the private sector. Photo: Julian Behal Photography

A report by the controversial top civil servant at the Department of Health will admit that the final financial details of chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan’s secondment to Trinity College Dublin were not fully worked out.

The report by Secretary General at the Department of Health Robert Watt to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will say that Dr Holohan's salary was going to be covered by research funding from a Department of Health quango, to be applied for by Trinity.

Details of the report, which is due to be published today, come amid mounting anger over the debacle. Junior health minister Anne Rabbitte said it was a “shame” to lose Dr Holohan from the public service.

She also hit out at the botched handling of his Trinity appointment by “some people” within the Department of Health. “I think it’s a shame to lose Tony’s skill and expertise from the public service,” Ms Rabbitte said. “He’s contributed so much over his career, particularly during the Covid pandemic.

"I think Tony could have undoubtedly helped develop the skills we need for public health into the future. I wish Tony well with his future endeavours.”

The report by Mr Watt will say a commitment was given by the Government to Trinity that there was academic research funding available to fund Dr Holohan's role.

There will be an admission that the financial details were not fully worked out and that the Health Research Board, which funds health and social care research and operates under the Department of Health, would have had sufficient funding for the role. 

The intention was that Trinity could compete for funding in this area to pay for Dr Holohan's professorship. The report will say procedures were followed, there was engagement with the Taoiseach's department and a public policy rationale for the role.

The report will also say that Mr Donnelly knew about the appointment, but not the payment details, and that Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser was also involved in the appointment. 

European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne said there has to be “full ministerial involvement” in secondments that are outside of usual procedure. “In any of these issues, there has to be a process that’s transparent,” he said.

“In relation to secondments which are not part of the normal process, there should be a proper process with full ministerial involvement.”

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin was forced to defend his own handling of the controversy after Dr Holohan announced at the weekend that he will not be taking up the Trinity role and will instead retire from the public service this summer. 

Dr Holohan has hinted that he will pursue a career in the private sector.

However, Mr Martin said the CMO was not owed an apology. It followed days of ministers criticising civil servants for their handling of the saga, especially Mr Watt.

He said it was “very regrettable” that Dr Holohan was not taking up the role. “I think fundamentally, lessons have to be learned here. Transparency from the outset would have been appropriate”

He  added: “I’m very clear from my own perspective as to any actions that I have taken in response to what I learned via the media in relation to the secondment.”

Fine Gael health spokesperson Colm Burke said he hopes there will be a way back for Dr Holohan as “all hands on deck” are needed to mend the country’s problematic health system.

“I would hope that there will be an appropriate process where he can come back and make a contribution to public health in this country because we need people who have expertise,” he said.

Meanwhile, Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said: “There is a question there around decision-making standards within the Department [of Health] but ultimately, all of us in Government are going to have to account for our own actions.”

Dr Holohan will spend less than three months as the head of the Government’s new Covid-19 advisory group.

The reigning chief medical officer will step down from his role in July and as a result, will also step down from the brand new Covid-19 advisory group, established just last week by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

Dr Holohan was appointed the head of the group last Friday.

The advisory group has replaced the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and will look at the country’s handling of the pandemic “long-term”.

“The Chair of the Covid-19 Advisory Group will be the serving chief medical officer at the time,” said a spokesperson for the department.

The Department of Health refused to initially answer queries on whether or not Dr Holohan will step down from the advisory group after finishing up as CMO, with a spokesperson later telling Independent.ie that the answer is “obvious”.

Other members of the new advisory group include immunologists Prof Luke O’Neill and Prof Clíona O’Farrelly, as well as HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry.

It also includes members of the old Nphet, including modelling expert Prof Philip Nolan and virologist Dr Cillian de Gascun, as well as current deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn.

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