The acting head of the Department of Health will be entitled to a severance payment of at least €105,000, enhanced pension terms, or the offer of an international post even if he is not given the job permanently, it can be revealed.
There has been significant controversy over the proposed appointment of a new secretary general at the Department of Health on a salary of €292,000 a year.
The Government’s decision to transfer Robert Watt on a temporary basis to the department led by health minister Stephen Donnelly in January was not based on any Cabinet memorandum, and the Oireachtas finance committee, chaired by John McGuinness, is currently investigating the matter.
Confidential correspondence seen by thehas detailed what Mr Watt’s entitlements are as one of the last secretaries general appointed prior to the introduction of revised terms of employment in 2011.
The correspondence from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to the committee, which will discuss the matter today in private session, states:
- Secretaries general such as Mr Watt, on the old terms, can be offered an alternative public service post, or a position in an international institution, if the individual is under the age of 60;
- If no alternative post is offered, the person is entitled to immediate payment of pension and lump sum, without any actuarial reduction, meaning a taxpayer-funded boost;
- The person is also entitled to what are called “added years” of up to a maximum of 10 years;
- Both of these provisions are highly lucrative and could cost in excess of €1m to buy out in the private sector, according to actuarial advice;
- Mr Watt would also be entitled to severance payment of six months’ salary which in his case would be €105,500, based on his current salary.
Mr Watt was also one of four secretaries general appointed by the government in early 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.
The others were Martin Fraser (secretary general to the Government), Jim Breslin (secretary general in the Department of Higher Education) and Brian Purcell (former secretary general in the Department of Justice).
Despite being asked to provide information to the committee on the process, Mr Donnelly declined to do so. Mr Donnelly said he had no “further information to add” to the committee’s deliberations. Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the chair of the Commission of Public Service Appointments, explained the Commission had no role regarding the salary level.
Sinn Féin’s public expenditure spokesperson Mairéad Farrell said the correspondence from the department “does little to answer our questions or allay our fears regarding the transparency in relation to how this sum of €292,000 was reached”.
"It would appear that no benchmarking was done or international comparison. We are told again that this figure is commensurate with responsibilities. However, we know that the director general of the WHO earns €199,165," she said.