Cabinet did not approve Watt's interim appointment, says Harris

Cabinet did not approve Watt's interim appointment, says Harris

Robert Watt is widely expected to win out and be appointed to the Health position permanently on the €292,000 salary, €81,000 more than his previous role. Picture: Gareth Chaney

The decision to appoint top official Robert Watt as the interim secretary-general at the Department of Health was not subject to a Cabinet memorandum or decision, Minister Simon Harris has said. 

Rather, he said ministers were merely informed about the decision at Cabinet.

Controversy has arisen around the proposed appointment of a new secretary-general in Health on a salary of €292,000 with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) now investigating the matter.

Mr Watt was reassigned from his post as secretary-general at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on an annual salary of €211,000 to the Department of Health on an acting basis.

He is, however, widely expected to win out and be appointed to the position permanently on the €292,000 salary, €81,000 more than his previous role.

“There wasn't a memo brought on the decision to the very best of my recollection. And my understanding is that these are things that usually would be sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the three-party leaders form a Cabinet committee in advance of Cabinet," Mr Harris said.

“There is now an international competition underway and I don't want to prejudice that process. The Public Accounts Committee, which I have great respect for as a former member, will obviously look into these matters. If the opposition or anybody have concerns or questions, the way to go about that is the way that the Public Accounts Committee intends to go about it."

Salary 'justified'

The Department of Public Expenditure has said the salary of €292,000 is justified as the role of secretary-general in the Department of Health is a highly complex one with a very challenging brief, particularly so in the midst of a global pandemic.

The role will require an individual with the ability, ambition and experience to take on this large portfolio with a department of almost 600 staff and 19 non-commercial state bodies under its aegis, including the HSE and a sector employing over 125,000 people, the department said.

"On January 6, Cabinet was informed that the TLAC process for the position in Health was about to commence and that, for the reasons outlined above, it would attract improved terms and conditions reflecting the responsibilities of the post,” it said.

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