The plot condenses once again into the saga about the now botched appointment as Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan to a professorship at Trinity College.
n yet another strange twist, the information note prepared by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Health Robert Watts for health ministers Stephen Donnelly on this subject was only published on Wednesday at 10.30 p.m. – just as the newspapers were faced with printing deadlines.
People could be forgiven for thinking the timing was a bit odd or maybe an attempt to take things off steam.
The informational note itself – as well as the correspondence with Trinity College – raises further questions about the arrangements and decisions behind the proposed move.
1. Why did Robert Watt tell Trinity College that the Department of Health is providing €2 million per year to fund the position?
It would be Dr. Holohan, who would be a professor of public health strategy and leadership until his retirement, which would take 10 years given his age of 55.
It would be an “annual earmarked allocation,” he told Trinity Provost Linda Doyle in a “strictly confidential” statement of intent March 16. He said it was administered by the Health Research Board, which is under the auspices of the Health Department.
However, we learned this week that the Health Research Board was unaware of it. She reiterated this today in a very clear statement.
In any case, Dr. Holohan would have to compete with others through Trinity in an open competition for any funding, and this would have been peer-reviewed by international experts.
There could be no predetermined winner for such a contest – even if there had been. It would undermine the Health Research Board’s credibility.
In his information letter to the minister, Mr Watt said the payment should not come “directly from the Department of Health’s vote”. He said it was intended to be “competitive funding.” He gave no information about the source.
However, he said he believes it is up to the department to “sign off” on the proposal, subject to further discussion, before Dr. Holohan will take up the position in July.
2. How does a posting become a permanent position?
The perpetual nature of Dr. Holohan’s assignment to Trinity remains unclear.
According to a policy paper on secondments in the public sector, these should not last longer than five years.
dr Holohan planned to stay at Trinity until retirement, which would be around 10 years.
Mr Watt said in his information note that some secondments are renewable and some are indefinite.
He said that within departments the seconded person moves onto the host’s payroll but in a “small number of cases” this does not happen.
On the terms of secondment of Dr. Holohan is nothing unusual, he said. However, this raises further questions about violations of the civil service’s own secondment policy.
3. Why insist on strict confidentiality?
In his letter to the Dean of Trinity dated March 16, in which he pledged €2 million per year to fund the post of Dr. Holohan, Mr. Watt insisted on strict confidentiality.
We are back to the question of the secrecy of the agreements behind the appointment – although Mr Watt denies this.
It is interesting that he encloses a draft of a press release that was to be issued to endorse the appointment of Dr. Announcing Holohan, which never mentioned he would remain as an employee of the Department of Health despite working at Trinity.
The press release was not issued until March 25 — more than a week later.
Mr Watt said the omission of details surrounding the secondment was because it was “rushed”.
Before last week’s revelations, there was always room for a follow-up statement.
It now seems that there has been enough time to decide what to include or exclude.
4. What did the former Minister of Government, Martin Fraser, know?
Mr Watt suggests that he told Martin Fraser that on February 25 he was taking Dr. Holohan aims.
Mr Watt says Mr Fraser asked him in March if he was working on the details of the agreement, including the proposed financing element.
Why didn’t Martin Fraser tell Taoiseach Micheál Martin about the secondment? Mr. Watt assumed that the plans of Dr. Holohan were known in the Taoiseach’s ministry, and he concluded that they had political support in government buildings.
5. Who conducts the independent review?
Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly announced last night he would order an independent review of the process.
In his press release, he cites the need for a review “without personalized comments addressed to officials working in good faith and with good intentions.”
Who wrote that? Was it the minister or one of the officials who are being asked questions?
The evaluator must, of course, be outside the civil service if the report is to have full credibility.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/the-questions-that-still-have-to-be-answered-about-the-tony-holohan-2m-a-year-trinity-job-41553935.html The unanswered questions about Tony Holohan’s €2 million a year job at Trinity