The highest official of the Ministry of Health Robert Watts and Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan are scheduled to appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee regarding the CMO’s resignation from secondment to an academic role in Trinity.
Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly’s spokesman said his general secretary, Mr Watt, and the CMO would attend the Oireachtas Health Committee next Wednesday.
However, Mr Donnelly will only appear before the committee after receiving an outside report on the debacle, which is not due to be completed until June.
“As the minister has said, he looks forward to attending the committee when it receives the independent report it has commissioned in a few weeks’ time,” the spokesman said.
It previously emerged that TDs and senators could be asked to vote on whether Robert Watt should appear before an Oireachtas finance committee after the health department secretary-general turned down a request to appear before him.
Mr Watt told the committee on Tuesday it was not “appropriate” to appear before him over the deputation debacle between Tony Holohan and Trinity as he is accountable to the Oireachtas Health Committee.
The finance committee has now approved on request sense fineTo seek enforcement powers which would require a vote by the Dáil and the Seanad.
It must then seek the express permission of an internal Leinster House committee to compel Mr Watt to appear before it.
The process is likely to take several weeks but could result in a vote in the Dáil and Seanad plenary and a potentially embarrassing situation for both the Government and Mr Watt.
Mairéad Farrell and Pearse Doherty, the members of the Sinn Féin Committee, wrote to Chair John McGuinness on Wednesday to express their belief that they have no choice now but to try to give the committee greater foreclosure powers.
“As such, I urge this committee to write to the Committee on Parliamentary Prerogatives and Oversight (CPPO) to request this,” the letter said.
The letter outlines a two-step process, with the committee first writing to the CPPO of both houses – Dáil and Seanad – to request authority to dispatch the said individual and any related documents.
If the CPPO agrees, the power must be granted by the Dáil on request and the same goes for the Seanad as it is a joint committee.
“I believe it is now time for this committee to reassert itself, to reclaim the important scrutiny role it has been given and its responsibility for accountability among senior civil service positions,” the letter concludes.
During a public Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Doherty said it was “regrettable” that the committee had to seek these enforcement powers in relation to another officer, whom he did not name.
His comments came during a hearing with Department of the Taoiseach Secretary-General Martin Fraser, who repeatedly told the committee he was unfamiliar with details and circumstances surrounding Dr. Holohan’s proposed secondment to Trinity College Dublin, including how it would be funded.
Mr. Fraser informed the committee that he had discussed with them late last summer the future work plans of Dr. Holohan discussed, however, the matter has not progressed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said this was an arranged meeting but there were no notes, records or minutes of it. “It was just a conversation between two colleagues,” he said. “It was just a conversation.”
He described it as a “general conversation” and that he also recalled discussing it with Robert Watt on the phone at the time.
Aside from a “generic suggestion” that the chief medical officer would go ahead, Mr Fraser said he didn’t recall another engagement until February, when Dr. Holohan told him over the phone that he was considering a possible role in the Third Level Sector and it was a secondment.
Mr Fraser said he supports the concept that Dr. Holohan takes on such a role.
Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly said both he and Mr Watt would appear before “any committees” after the external review of Dr. Holohan had been performed.
“There is no question of not appearing openly before any committees,” he said.
This also applies to Mr Watt.
“The report [is] It will only take a few weeks, let’s get the report, make sure everyone can read the report and everyone is familiar with the details, I think then we should have the meetings,” he said.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has been heavily criticized by one of his own TDs for “misleading comments” about the Oireachtas Finance Committee’s efforts to bring Mr Watt before him.
Committee chairman John McGuinness said the public was concerned about Dr.
Towards the end of the committee’s hearing on the controversy on Wednesday, Mr McGuinness criticized the Taoiseach’s description of the committee’s prosecution of Mr Watt’s testimony as a “witch hunt” in Tuesday’s Dáil.
He said it was “regrettable” and Fianna Fáil’s TD also addressed the Taoiseach’s suggestion that the committee should wait until an external report on the June debacle is completed.
“This is in stark contrast to the treatment of a minister who asked for a due process but was dismissed. And if that isn’t a double standard, I don’t know what is,” Mr McGuinness said in reference to the July 2020 sacking of former Agriculture Secretary Barry Cowen.
Mr McGuinness also criticized Mr Watt’s initial failure to respond to the Committee’s request for information about his department’s involvement in the secondment of Dr. respond to Holohan, including missing deadlines and not answering phone calls.
He said this was an “extremely terrible example” for the younger officers and described the behavior of some politicians and officials as “disgraceful”.
It is understood that in addition to seeking powers to compel Mr. Watt to appear before him, the committee will write directly to the Taoiseach asking him to have Mr. Watt appear before him.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/robert-watt-and-dr-tony-holohan-will-appear-before-the-oireachtas-health-commitee-next-week-41593300.html Robert Watts and Dr. Tony Holohan will appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee next week