Tony Holohan row: Other universities confirm they’re the ones who pay people on secondment

Dr Tony Holohan will no longer be taking up his secondment role at Trinity College Dublin following the controversy surrounding which organisation would fund it. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Eilish O'Regan

The paymaster system for civil and public servants who are on secondment remains unclear – with questions around how it is managed following the planned transfer of chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan to Trinity College Dublin.

The Department of Health gave a commitment to fund his Trinity College professorship with a package of €2m a year until his retirement, including his €187,000 annual salary.

But it appears the organisation to which the public or civil servant is seconded should normally pay their salary for the duration of their transfer, rather than their parent employer.

This is the procedure currently in place by University College Dublin (UCD) and the University of Limerick (UL).

Two other universities did not release specific details when asked.

Asked what system is in place in UCD, a spokesperson told the Irish Independent: “We have no civil servants on secondment.

“We have four secondees from across the public service and each of their salaries is paid by the university.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for UL said the university had “both staff seconded out of the institution as well as staff seconded into UL from other government organisations”.

They added: “The organisation at which the individual staff member is carrying out their work funds the salary.” They added that there is no further detail available at this time.

A spokesperson for NUI Galway responded by saying: “We have several secondment arrangements with other public-sector organisations, both outward and inward, which are in place for set periods of time.

“Secondments of this nature are typical across the sector and of significant benefit to our teaching and learning and research. Due to employee confidentiality, we are not in a position to discuss the personal details of the individuals concerned.”

Asked what arrangements are in place in Maynooth University, a spokesperson said: “There are various secondment, career break and other arrangements, with government and industry partners, entered into by universities.

“We do not release the specific or personal details attached to these arrangements.”

The issue around secondment policy is expected to be part of the external review, to be carried out by an expert to be appointed by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly this week.

It will look at the process and decision making around the appointment and indefinite secondment of Dr Holohan as Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership.

Dr Holohan will not be taking up the role following the controversy and the decision to pause it, pending a briefing note from the department’s secretary-general Robert Watt.

In his briefing note which was made public last week, Mr Watt said: “Secondments are a common feature across the civil and public service.

“The secondment policy for the civil service provides for how secondments within the civil service itself are to be managed, but in addition, there is a long-standing practice of secondments between the department and a range of bodies in the public sector, in particular, where specific expertise is required.

“As of April 6, the department has 12 of its own employees seconded out to other government departments or bodies under the aegis of government departments, including staff seconded to the Department of An Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs, and based in Northern Ireland and Brussels.

“The duration of these secondments to other organisations varies in general between one year and five years, but some will be subject to extension, depending on the agreement made at the time the secondment commenced and some would be open ended.”