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'Leadership and courage': Dr Tony Holohan steps down as CMO today after 14 years

Professor Breda Smyth has been appointed to serve as Ireland’s interim chief medical officer.

Image: Leon Farrell

Updated Jul 1st 2022, 5:01 PM

DR TONY HOLOHAN is stepping down from his role as the country’s chief medical officer today after after 14 years in the job.

Tributes have been paid to the “leadership” and “courage” he brought to the position during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Holohan himself said that “it’s been an honour to serve the Irish people, particularly through the Covid-19 pandemic.”

In a LinkedIn post, he wrote:

I believe that optimal public health and wellbeing, both physical and mental, is essential for people to reach their potential, and is key to a just and equitable society. Professionally I will continue to explore opportunities around health and related issues, but I want to see what else is out there too.

“There’s much to be done, especially with vulnerable groups, and now that I have more time, I plan to take on some pro bono work within healthcare and in wider community initiatives.

“The loss of my wife has also left me with a desire to do something meaningful in her memory, though the exact form it will take is still undecided.

“Thank you to the Irish people for their enormous trust, sacrifice, patience, and resilience in the last couple of years, and for their many kind messages when Emer died. I cannot adequately express how much this has meant to me and to our children. So many of us lost loved ones in the pandemic. My heartfelt commiserations to you all.”

He also thanked his Department of Health colleagues, the government, various agencies he worked with and the HSE.

“Having served seven Ministers, I witnessed firsthand just how dedicated each one of them has been. It has always impressed me.”

Holohan announced in March that he would be stepping down to take up an academic role at Trinity College Dublin.

He subsequently pulled out of the mooted Trinity post amid controversy over the transparency and funding of the position.

Professor Breda Smyth has been appointed to serve as Ireland’s interim chief medical officer.

A competition to find a permanent replacement for Dr Holohan remains ongoing.

Paying tribute to his last day, HSE Chief Operating Officer Colm Henry said he wanted to “acknowledge his leadership, courage and commitment throughout his tenure and the clarity he brought at a time of fear and uncertainty”.

“This involved great personal sacrifice for him and his family,” Henry said.

“Tá muid faoi chomaoin aige.”

Junior minister in the Department of Health Frank Feighan also commended Dr Holohan’s leadership.

“He was able to inform and also to show huge leadership ability,” Feighan said, speaking on Shannonside FM.

“People trusted him and people trusted his knowledge, but also trusted his evidence base, and the way he delivered it.

“That was very, very reassuring in the very, very difficult and dark times during the pandemic.”

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As Dr Holohan steps down, Prof Smyth will head up the Government’s Covid-19 advisory group, which has replaced the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) which made public health recommendations to Government throughout the pandemic. 

Professor Luke O’Neill, alongside infectious disease experts Professor Mary Horgan and Paddy Mallon are just some of the members of the Government’s new Covid-19 advisory group, which has 20 members. 

Since it was established in April, the group has on two occasions. The Department of Health said the group will continue to meet regularly over the coming months.

Shortly after Holohan announced that he planned to step aside, deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn resigned to work in the private sector.

Since then, other significant players in the health service have announced they are moving on. 

HSE boss Paul Reid confirmed this week that he will step down from his position later this year.

Reid stepping down comes amid what is being dubbed a “mass exodus” of people from the top jobs in health. 

Anne O’Connor, the chief operating officer of the HSE, has also left for a job with the private health insurance company, VHI.

Those in Government are concerned about the “brain drain” in the Irish health service.

“There is a lot of turnover for sure,” said one source, adding that it is an employees market right now. They can get paid good money and get a lot less abuse, they added.

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