Answers sought over senior civil servant's €292,000 salary

In his new role as interim secretary-general in health, Robert Watt will receive €81,000 more than secretaries-general in other departments
Answers sought over senior civil servant's €292,000 salary

Robert Watt, the interim-secretary general of the Department of Health, whose new salary has come under scrutiny. File Picture.

A major row has erupted over when the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will reveal its role in the setting of a €292,000 salary for a new top health official.

Three separate Oireachtas committees have demanded answers from the department on the re-assignment of Robert Watt as interim secretary-general in Health and the new salary, which is €81,000 more than other top-tier secretaries-general salaries.

The Oireachtas Finance Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Budget Oversight Committee have all sought answers as to the department’s role. The department has made clear it will answer all three at the same time.

Correspondence between the various committees and the department, obtained by the Irish Examiner, reveals its intentions to release the information at the same time to all parties on February 2.

“In order to provide comprehensive information to all three committees and to reduce duplication, it is planned to forward the same information to each committee at the same time. This information is currently being compiled and will be forwarded to each committee by February 2, 2021,” the department said.

However, the Finance Committee as the committee with direct oversight of the department is demanding an “immediate” answer from officials and Minister Michael McGrath.

Its chairman John McGuinness said he and his members are not willing to wait with the others, saying they do not want to be “held up.”

In the letter to Mr McGrath as public expenditure minister, the committee said: “Arising from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach yesterday, I have been requested to write to you in connection with recent reports that a significant pay increase for the role of secretary general of the Department of Health has been sanctioned.”

The Joint Committee told Mr McGrath it would be grateful If he could respond to the following queries:

* What role, if any, role you or your department had in the matter;

* Copies any correspondence on this matter between ministers and officials outlining the sequence of events and basis for the decision to sanction the increase;

* The reason for moving one secretary general to another department on an interim basis and the selection process undertaken in this regard, and

* The selection process that will be undertaken regarding a permanent appointment to the role of secretary-general of the Department of Health.

Mairead Farrell, Sinn Féin’s public expenditure and reform spokesperson described the €292,000 salary of the new secretary-general of the Department of Health, as shocking.

Ms Farrell, vice-chair of the Budget Oversight Committee, has highlighted an inconsistency in that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar claimed that the decision to increase the salary was approved by Cabinet, yet at the same time Simon Harris has told us that the decision wasn’t brought before Cabinet.


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