Department of Health chief Robert Watt’s undertaking for €2m in funding a year to support Tony Holohan’s Trinity College post is at the centre of two inquiries.
In addition, claims that TCD’s board was unlikely to know Dr Holohan was due to join the university when they approved his new professor post last month are set to come under scrutiny.
It comes after it emerged public funding was committed to supporting the role more than a week earlier.
The college said the board “never confirms appointments, only the creation of posts”. A separate “interview panel and academic council confirms the individuals as suitable for the job”, a college spokeswoman said.
Dr Holohan was interviewed for the post – which was created for him, and no other candidates were invited to apply – before the Trinity board meeting.
The board met on March 23 and approved the new academic post of Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership. Two days later, the Department of Health announced Dr Holohan was moving to Trinity in July, when he would take on the new professorship. But it did not say he was on secondment.
However, it emerged in recent days that a week earlier, Department of Health secretary-general Robert Watt had written a letter of intent to Trinity Provost Linda Doyle, underwriting the €2m-a-year funding package to support Dr Holohan’s teaching and research role focusing on public health threats.
Dr Holohan has since announced he will not be proceeding with the move and will retire in July, possibly looking for a role in the private sector. It followed a week of controversy after it was revealed he was on indefinite secondment and would keep his salary, staying in the employment of the Department of Health at the same rank of chief medical officer.
It prompted the decision by Taoiseach Micheál Martin to pause the process until he had received a report on the matter.
The failure to make clear earlier that it was a secondment and involved €2m a year ring-fenced funding until retirement is to form an important part of the external review into the matter.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is expected to appoint an expert outside the public service early next week to examine the issues raised around transparency, funding and accountability.
This is due to take around three to four weeks.
TCD’s financial position – which meant it could not pay Dr Holohan directly – and the subsequent fallout is expected to be addressed by the Trinity board at its next meeting, on Wednesday.
However, the two inquiries – the external review and an examination by the Oireachtas Committee on Public Expenditure – look set to question
Mr Watt on the source of the €2m annual funding. While he said in his briefing note to the minister this week that it would not come from the Department of Health, there is no other obvious source, given the Health Research Board has said publicly it was not involved.
Mr Watt and secretary-general to the Government Martin Fraser, who was told by Dr Holohan in February he was seeking secondment, have been asked to appear before the committee on Wednesday.
The chair of the committee, John McGuinness, has said he expects the two senior civil servants – along with David Moloney, secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to appear before the members on that date.
The terms of Dr Holohan’s secondment would have meant he retained his current salary and any pay rises linked to the grade as well as the freedom to work for the private sector.
An advertisement for a new chief medical officer is now due, with the salary at the grade of deputy secretary.
Dr Holohan will continue to chair the new group monitoring Covid-19 until July.