Watt's €292K appointment to health to be approved

Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy said that the appointment 'has all the hallmarks of an old-fashioned stroke'
Watt's €292K appointment to health to be approved

Robert Watt's role in setting the salary for his new appointment has been questioned.

The appointment of Robert Watt as secretary general of the Department of Health on a permanent basis is expected to be approved this week.

Sources say that Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, will bring a memo to Cabinet on Wednesday after Mr Watt's appointment to the role, which he has been doing on an interim basis, was approved by the top-level appointments committee (TLAC).

Mr Watt had been serving as the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and politicians across the board have questioned his role in setting the salary for the health position, which at €292,000 will be €81,000 higher than his current pay packet.

Michael McGrath, the public expenditure minister, told the Oireachtas finance committee that Mr Watt had "no input" in setting the higher wage, which was seen as necessary to attract a suitable calibre of candidate.

That note, prepared for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), says that the current pay packages for senior executives "appear to have provided barriers to recruiting persons of suitable calibre and experience for multiple roles". 

However, it adds that, while the 45% increase in salary for the new secretary general of the Department of Health may have been an attempt to address this, "the apparent ad-hoc nature of this approach might not represent best practice".

"The lack of identifiable benchmarks or reference points for the determination of remuneration for such roles lacks transparency and may give rise to significant expenditure without a clear and accountable process."

Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy, who sits on the PAC, said that the appointment "has all the hallmarks of an old-fashioned stroke".

"It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. 

If it looks like a stroke and sounds like a stroke, it is a stroke. This has all the hallmarks of a stroke 

"A huge disservice is being done to public sector recruitment processes and pay scales. I would be incredibly disappointed if Government signs off on this."

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said that the appointment "does not sit well".

"It appears to be more about headhunting than a contest, even if it's come through TLAC. It will be interesting to see how many applied.

"People will only apply if they think that the job is available. It looks much more like headhunting. It's difficult to see how this won't affect public sector pay from the top down."

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry yesterday wrote to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his party's ministers saying that the appointment process had been "designed and engineered by the direct beneficiaries".

"If our Government allow this to proceed, it will quite frankly put Ireland’s approach to corporate governance in the higher levels of national administration into a zone that one might expect from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Franco’s Spain or Putin’s Russia, but certainly not a nation which sees itself along those leading the charge in democratic principles and best practice.

The extortionate salary proposed is not remotely the going rate for this role. These salaries all have been set by the protagonists involved themselves

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.

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