PAC to seek date on which Robert Watt first took receipt of €81k raise 

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe strongly defended the Government's decision to award the €294,000 salary to Mr Watt
PAC to seek date on which Robert Watt first took receipt of €81k raise 

The PAC is set to write to the Department of Health to seek clarity as to when Mr Watt, its secretary general, first began taking receipt of his €81,000 raise. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

The Public Accounts Committee is to write to two Government departments seeking clarity on senior officials’ pay in the fallout from the controversy surrounding Robert Watt’s salary.

At a meeting this afternoon the committee agreed to write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) to suggest that in future published accounts for State Departments should detail the level of pay of their chief officials.

The committee is also set to write to the Department of Health to seek clarity as to when Mr Watt, its secretary general, first began taking receipt of his €81,000 raise.

The pay bump brought his salary to €292,000, however, Mr Watt had temporarily waived the increase last year.

The Irish Examiner this week revealed that Mr Watt received a further pay rise of nearly €3,000 last October, meaning his salary now stands at €294,920.

When Mr Watt took over the role last April he said he would waive the new salary until such time as Ireland’s economy improved. He had steadfastly refused to answer questions regarding his pay until the intervention of two senior ministers in the past week who said that such pay scales should be transparent.

The Department of Health this morning declined to clarify when Mr Watt took on his new salary, saying the matter is “personal and private in respect of the individual concerned”.

In PAC’s debate on the matter, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy said that having submitted parliamentary questions on the matter which were not answered he was “struck that there is no mechanism to find out if individuals are returning some of their salary”.

“It struck me as strange that €81,000 could be handed back,” he said.

Committee chair Brian Stanley said the committee should ask DPER to update the format of Statutory appropriation accounts so that the level of pay of a secretary general over a financial year can be ascertained.

The Irish Examiner this week revealed that Mr Watt received a further rise of nearly €3,000 last October, meaning his salary now stands at €294,920. File picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
The Irish Examiner this week revealed that Mr Watt received a further rise of nearly €3,000 last October, meaning his salary now stands at €294,920. File picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

While this is the norm in the private sector, it does not happen in terms of public bodies at present.

“This is significantly out of step with the standards of non State bodies,” Mr Stanley said, adding that the change should be prioritised so that clarity can be gained for the 2021 accounts, due for preparation within the next month.

Should that happen, what Mr Watt was paid in his first nine months in his new role would become public knowledge.

The proposal received unanimous agreement from the committee members present, with independent TD Verona Murphy commenting that “anyone paid from the public purse should have to detail their salary”.

It comes as Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe strongly defended the Government's decision to award the €294,000 salary to Mr Watt.

Asked about the significant wage increase, Mr Donohoe said the Government felt a higher salary was needed to attract the best person for the job, which was filled by Mr Watt in April of last year.

Mr Donohoe said he wanted to "make the case" as to why the Government decided that an €81,000 increase for the role was justified.

"The context of the time is the Department of Health was fundamental to the operation and health of our country, not to mention our economy.

"At that point in time, we did not have the secretary-general in place. If I look at the changes that we have made, if I look at where we are from a vaccination programme point of view, if I look at where we are from a testing point of view, the Department of Health has been central to that," Mr Donohoe told RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne.

"So the reason why the Government felt a higher salary was needed for that role is we believed that role and that department was essential to where our public and economic health are now."

He said the Department of Health would continue to face significant issues in the coming months and years, further justifying Mr Watt's rate of pay.

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