Michael McGrath faces Finance Committee grilling over Robert Watt's €292k Health role

Robert Watt's salary is €81,000 more than other top-tier secretaries-general earn
Michael McGrath faces Finance Committee grilling over Robert Watt's €292k Health role

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath will be asked the appointment of the new secretary-general at Department of Health on a salary of €292,000 a year. Picture Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath will appear before the Oireachtas Finance Committee next Tuesday to discuss the appointment of the new secretary-general at the Department of Health on a salary of €292,000 a year.

Mr McGrath will be asked about the process for the appointment of Robert Watt, who had been the head of his department before moving to the Department of Health on an interim basis.

Mr Watt's salary is €81,000 more than other top-tier secretaries-general earn and politicians across the board have questioned whether he had a role in setting the pay scale before taking the job.

The Oireachtas Finance Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Budget Oversight Committee have all sought answers on the department’s and Mr Watt's role in setting the salary.

The number of committees expressing concern about the appointment led to a question over which had the remit to actually investigate it. The Public Accounts Committee on Thursday met and decided that its remit should be more focused on what sources called "the bigger picture" and PAC will now undertake an examination of the process for deciding pay for top civil servants.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has previously defended the appointment, saying that it was appropriate because of the exceptional importance of the Department of Health for a period of time.

“It is appropriate in order to ensure that we have the right level of skill leading a department like this. We do have a compensation package that reflects that,” he said.

Mr Watt was one of four secretaries-general appointed by the Government in 2011 who had access to the same enhanced retirement and severance arrangements as former top civil servant Dermot McCarthy, whose departure was mired in controversy.

Mr McCarthy received an annual pension of €142,670, a once-off lump sum of €428,011, and a separate special severance payment of €142,670, despite savage austerity measures being introduced.

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