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€81,000 salary hike for senior Department of Health role 'right decision', says Minister

The role of secretary general at the Department of Health has been advertised with a salary of €292,000.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath
Image: Niall Carson/PA

THE GOVERNMENT’S APPROVAL The Government’s approval of an €81,000 pay hike for the next secretary general of the Department of Health is “outrageous” and “astronomical”, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath told the Finance Committee it was the “right decision” to increase the salary from €211,000 to €292,000.

An open competition is under way for the position.

The minister was before the committee today to answer questions about the matter.

McGrath told the committee he had sanctioned the increase and that he considered the salary of €292,000 was “commensurate with the scale of the responsibilities and the unique challenges attached to this role, not least at the current time”.

He said he discussed the matter with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Secretary General to the Government Martin Fraser.

McGrath also told the committee that the Taoiseach had asked the former secretary general at the Department of Expenditure, Robert Watt, to move to the Department of Health on an interim basis while the recruitment process is ongoing.

But he said Watt had “no input” into sanctioning the salary increase and that the pay rise would only apply to the person appointed arising from the open competition.

Sinn Féin’s Mairead Farrell queried where the “astronomical increase” came from and how exactly the €81,000 figure was decided upon.

“It seems that €292,000 was just a nice round number,” she said.

But McGrath said there was “a need for an enhanced salary in order to attract the very best candidates from all over the world to apply for a position of huge responsibility”.

He highlighted that a recruitment campaign for the role of chief executive of the HSE was unsuccessful two years ago, until the post was re-advertised with a higher salary of €363,000.

“In making the final decision, I looked at other salaries at very senior levels across the public service,” McGrath said.

“The final salary that has been arrived at is about 20% less than the CEO of the HSE.”

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Solidarity TD Mick Barry questioned how the salary can be justified when the director general of the World Health Organisation is paid €199,000, or €92,000 less than the incoming secretary general at the Department of Health.

“You can make all the points you wish about filling the position, I think an ordinary person looking at it will say it’s bizarre and it’s outrageous as well,” Barry told the committee.

He added that it was “outrageous” that nurses would receive a 1% increase in pay while the next secretary general will receive a 40% increase in pay.

“Public sector workers are worth a lot more than that,” he added.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty accused McGrath of being “tone deaf” if he felt there would not be an issue with an €81,000 pay hike when thousands of people are out of work because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Asked by Doherty why the Government did not ask Watt to take up the role in the Department of Health on a full-time basis on his current salary, McGrath said he wanted an open competition to be held for the job.

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