Harney under fire over €70,000 bonus

HEALTH Minister Mary Harney was accused of “abdicating her responsibility” after claiming she had nothing to do with the awarding of a €70,000 performance bonus to HSE chief executive Brendan Drumm.

The payment is part of a total of almost €5 million in performance-related bonuses paid to senior civil and public servants for 2007, €1.7m of which went to HSE management despite patients suffering as a result of staff and service shortages.

The opposition last night described the bonus as “madness” and “outrageous”, with Fine Gael claiming it will weaken the Government’s authority in any attempts to cut the pay of public servants, including nurses and health staff, in December’s Budget.

The €70,000 bonus tops up Professor Drumm’s basic salary of €370,000, which is €140,000 more than that paid to his equivalent in the British National Health Service.

But Ms Harney defended the big top-up, saying he “does a fantastic job”.

She was not aware of the decision to award the bonus, which was made by the HSE board in recent months.

“I have no responsibility here,” she insisted.

“It’s not a matter for the minister, nor should it be. The last thing we need is meddlesome ministers getting involved in contractual issues around individuals. That would be very unsatisfactory,” she said.

Fine Gael health spokes-man Dr James Reilly said this was another example of Ms Harney “abdicating” her responsibility.

“This is no attitude for a minister to display. She should be seeking to engage in matters to ensure the public purse is protected,” he said.

The payment to Prof Drumm relates to his performance in 2007, a year which saw a HSE budget overrun of €225m and the death of cancer patient Susie Long because of delays accessing treatment.

HSE chairman Liam Downey said these matters were taken into consideration in sanctioning the payment, but the board had no doubts about awarding it.

“Quite the contrary in fact. Professor Drumm has done an outstanding job in each of the years since he has been with the HSE since 2005 and he continues to do that,” said Mr Downey.

“Obviously 2007 was a particularly difficult year for the health services but that tends to be the case in every year. And he continues to put in a huge contribution to the reform of the health services,” he said.

Labour’s health spokes-woman Jan O’Sullivan said 2007 was “beset by controversies over cancer misdiagnosis”, and instead of being held to account, Prof Drumm was getting “a pat on the back worth almost twice the average industrial wage”.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the payment to the HSE chief was made on the basis of “the terms of the employment contract he has, which relates to performance bonus as part of his wage structure”.

Mr Cowen said that since 2008, the Government had made orders that such payments would no longer be made.

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