Country's top civil servant given another pay rise

Robert Watt was awarded an increase of €81,000 last year — and has since received a further €3,000 boost to his salary
Country's top civil servant given another pay rise

Controversy has erupted about the process through which Robert Watt, the secretary general at the Department of Health, received his pay increases. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Robert Watt, the top civil servant controversially awarded an €81,000 pay increase last year, has received a further rise of nearly €3,000, six months after taking up the post, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

Mr Watt, who was appointed secretary general in the Department of Health on a salary of €292,000 last April, then got a €2,920 top-up in October.

As a result, his salary now stands at €294,920, official figures released by the Department of Public Expenditure show.

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy said the pay increase, at three times what the Government has decided to give to frontline workers in recognition of their role during the Covid-19 pandemic, is unacceptable.

“This is not about the individual, Robert Watt. This is about the process around the salary level,” Mr Carthy told the Irish Examiner.

Amid controversy at the time of his appointment over how the salary was agreed upon, Mr Watt temporarily waived the €81,000 top-up, but there is confusion as to whether that waiver is still in place.

Mr Carthy, a member of the Dáil’s public accounts committee, sought to question Mr Watt on this issue when the official appeared as a witness recently, but did not receive a response.

Contacted by the Irish Examiner, a spokesman for the Minister for Health said he was not aware whether the added portion of salary is still being waived. “That is a matter for the secretary general,” he said.

The Irish Examiner sought comment directly from Mr Watt, but none was forthcoming.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said a revised salary of €292,000 was sanctioned for recruitment to the post of the secretary general of the Department of Health, reflecting the challenges and very significant responsibilities attached to this role.

He confirmed that, under the terms of the latest public pay deal, the rate for the post in the Department of Health with effect from October 1, 2021, is €294,920.

“Section 3.1.3 of ‘Building Momentum: A New Public Service Agreement 2021-2022’ provided for a general round increase in annualised basic salary for all public servants of 1% or €500, whichever is greater, on 1 October 2021,” Mr McGrath said.

The decision to pay Mr Watt the higher salary in effect created a fourth tier of secretaries general.

He is the only secretary general to be paid at that higher rate at present, but there are concerns others will seek a similar pay rise.

Since October, the salary rate for secretary general level I and level II is €213,859, and the rate for secretary general level III is €202,604.

“The payscale is not justified, so to suggest he is entitled to a €3,000 pay increase is simply not acceptable. “This was an obscure process with no logical explanation,” said Mr Carthy, adding regarding the waiver, “it is spectacular that information is not available”.

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