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TD MacSharry insists committee has no legal right to strike from record his Holohan and Watt 'corruption' claims

Former Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry tells Chief Medical Officer and department Secretary General “you people” need to accept there is an elected parliament


Dr Tony Holohan

Dr Tony Holohan

Dr Tony Holohan

Former Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry has insisted the Oireachtas Health Committee does not have the legal right to strike from the record his claims of corruption over the botched appointment of Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to role in Trinity College.

In a letter to the committee, Mr MacSharry said chairman and Sinn Féin TD Sean Crowe is not entitled to remove his comments from the record.

“It is my and indeed all Oireachtas members entitlement to speak as we wish and within the bounds of parliamentary privilege,” he said.

“My utterances and that of any member at today’s meeting or any meeting must be precisely and accurately recorded and remain a matter of public record on the transcripts of the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee into perpetuity. It cannot be altered and to say otherwise is incorrect,” he added.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD said any member or individual can disagree with his opinion but the chairman did not have the power to strike it from the record.

“While we can sometimes be forgiven for thinking we are becoming a totalitarian regime I am glad and indeed relieved to say that we still have freedom of speech and parliamentary privilege to support it within the Oireachtas,” he said.

“My comments today reflect the contempt with which ordinary people are being treated by the appalling absence of any semblance of appropriate governance, process, procedure or public respect when it comes to certain actions and activities at a senior level within our Civil Service and Government. I believe it is unbecoming a true democracy and must be addressed,” he added.

Mr MacSharry asked that the record of his comment be “preserved as uttered, unaltered into perpetuity in line with the founding traditions of our democracy”.

He earlier accused Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and Department of Health Secretary General Robert Watt of “corruption” for the way €2m a year was committed to fund Dr Holohan’s proposed Trinity College research post.

Mr MacSharry made the accusation after Mr Watt said he provided the commitment in a letter to Trinity College without first telling the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly or Taoiseach Micheal Martin.

In an exchange at the Oireachtas Health Committee Mr MacSharry said: “What is coming across to me is corruption by any objective analysis unbecoming both of you in your expertise and professionalism in other ways .”

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He accused Mr Watt of “retro engineering” a position for “somebody and seeking to bounce the Government into it until there was pandemonium in the Dáil about it.”

He told them “you people” needed to accept there is an elected parliament.

Mr Watt said he took issue with the term “you people”.

Some members of the committee said they did not want to associated with the accusation of “corruption”.

Chairman Sean Crowe said he would erase it from the record.

Earlier Mr Watt was accused of “breath taking arrogance” by Sinn Féin TD, David Cullinane.

He said Mr Watt believed he had the authority to spend €20m of taxpayers money without getting sanction.

Mr Watt said details has yet to be worked out and the plan was to allocate the money to the Health Research Board although he had not approached the body about it.

Mr Watt and Dr Holohan were before the committee to answer questions on how €2m a year – amounting to €20m over ten years – was committed to Trinity College as part of Dr Holohan taking up a Professorship role involving teaching and research.

It only emerged in recent weeks that Dr Holohan would remain an employee of the Department of Health, retaining his title of chief medical officer, his fully salary and pay increases while on indefinite secondment to Trinity.

An earlier press release announcing his appointment in March did not mention he would be remaining in the department. Mr Donnelly believed he was leaving.

After controversy emerged around he revelations, the Taoiseach ordered the matter be paused and Dr Holohan announced he would not be taking up the role.

Mr Watt wrote to Trinity giving a commitment of €2m a year in funding until Dr Holohan’s retirement but he claimed today it was a “letter of intent”.

Only three people in the department knew of this – himself, Dr Holohan and the head of human resources.

Questioned by Mr Cullinane, he said he wrote the letter without informing the Minister or Taoiseach or organising how the money – to come from Department of Health estimates – would be paid.

Fine Gael TD Colm Burke, who is a solicitor, said once the terms were accepted by Trinity it amounted to a legal agreement and he suggested the opinion of the Attorney General be sought.

Mr Watt said the minister knew Dr Holohan was stepping down but not the contents of the letter.

The minister went on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland in early April after he read in the media that Dr Holohan would be remaining an employee of the department.

He defended the move. But Mr Watt said today Mr Donnelly had still not been briefed on the contents of the letter committing €2m a year to Trinity even at that point.

The minister knew the “generality but was not involved in the details of the proposal.”

Mr Watt said although Dr Holohan indicated last August that he was interested in an academic role he did not want it leaked that the chief medical officer was moving on due to Covid-19 still being an issue.

Dr Holohan today he believed support for his move was “there from the get go.”

When the controversy arose around the post and the Taoiseach paused the process he said “I thought it was important that I made an early decision that I would not proceed with the role.”

He did not want politicians and civil servants to be “diverted” and had no desire for them an the Provost of Trinity to be drawn in to “any suggestion of impropriety.”

Mr Watt said a scheme is currently in place for Secretary Generals of Departments who have finished their seven year term to be seconded to universities and this is the case for two individuals in order to allow them make up service for a pension.

The plan around Dr Holohan was similar, he claimed. But Dr Holohan when questioned today told the committee his post as chief medical officer was not limited to seven years.

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