How Robert Watt’s €20m bid for the Holohan post puts him in the Gatsby league
As Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, the rich are “different from you and me.” Health Department Secretary-General Robert Watt yesterday struggled to explain to the Oireachtas Health Committee how he told Trinity College, without authorization, that it would receive €2 million a year to support Tony Holohan’s professorship. Over 10 years it would be worth 20 million euros.
Though he was irritated when former Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry referred to both as “their people”, it’s difficult not to conclude that even the highest officials – who handle vast sums of taxpayers’ money every day – can do so , as Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said, “losing the barrel” of himself. It raises serious doubts about Mr Watt’s judgment and leaves many questions unanswered.
When Mr Watt wrote his strictly “confidential” letter to Trinity last month, pledging to give £2million a year in support of Dr or Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly.
He described it as a statement of intent, with details yet to be worked out. But he did not seek legal advice and there was no mention that this was “subject to ministerial approval”. As Fine Gael TD Colm Burke, an attorney, said, once Trinity accepted the terms, a legal agreement was formed.
Undermining the Health Research Board
Mr Watt said the €2 million would be channeled through the Health Research Board. It would distribute it based on competing bids from researchers, with Dr. Holohan at the top. dr Holohan said there would be plenty of funding from international organizations that could flow into his research.
This is a good idea and a way for Ireland to tap into money. However, Mr. Watt has not properly explained why he did not even tell the Health Research Board that he makes this commitment to Trinity regarding the body.
Mystery of permanent secondment
dr Holohan was to spend the remainder of his working life at Trinity and be seconded indefinitely, still be an employee of the Department of Health, retaining his salary of €187,000 and the title of Chief Medical Officer, although another would be appointed in his place.
Mr Watt compared that secondment to that offered to health department secretaries-general who have completed their seven-year term but have to make up the years for their pension and, in some cases, work at universities.
like dr However, Holohan said Mr. MacSharry was not subject to such a seven-year limit and could have spent the remainder of his career as CMO.
Failure to tell the boss
Mr Watt spoke of his relationship with Mr Donnelly as one of employer and employee, but although he is the latter it is unclear who really is boss.
He said the minister was generally aware that Dr. Holohan would take up a post at Trinity. Little did he know that he would remain an employee of the Department of Health while taking on the academic role.
When the Minister Dr. Defended Holohan on the radio after hearing about it from the media, he was also not informed in advance about the €2 million a year commitment. He spoke of “Tony” wanting a new challenge, but Mr Watt didn’t think it was time to update him on the potential top-up required in the Minister’s estimates for 2023.
Feel fully supported
dr Holohan said he believes he has full support for his plan to take on the new post. That was true, except the minister didn’t know he wasn’t going to leave his department and he was likely to be raising 2 million euros a year to fund the research.
dr Holohan was not asked why he had not given the Minister full details. Mr Watt admitted that lessons had to be learned in the wake of a press release that had to be issued “hasty” saying that Dr. Holohan accepted the professorship but didn’t include all the other details.
Nothing stopped its communications officers from sending out an updated press release last month.
dr Holohan, who is no longer holding the post and will retire in July, was asked about his future. He has not closed the door on another civil service role.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/how-robert-watts-20m-offer-for-the-holohan-post-puts-him-in-gatsby-league-41615761.html How Robert Watt’s €20m bid for the Holohan post puts him in the Gatsby league