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Watt said last year that he would temporarily waive the €81,000 salary increase "until the economy begins to recover and unemployment falls". Oireachtas TV
Sec Gen Job

Did the country's top civil servant accept an €81K pay rise? Varadkar says it's not for him to say

‘Transparency is always useful in these matters,’ a spokesperson for the Taoiseach has said.

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has said that whether the country’s top civil servant wants to reveal that he has now accepted an €81,000 pay hike is a “private matter”. 

Pressure has been mounting on the Secretary General of the Department of Health Robert Watt to reveal if he is now receiving his full salary of nearly €300,000.

Last year, questions had been raised about Watt’s appointment, after the government decided to sanction a pay rise of €81,000 per year for whoever got the job as the secretary general.

Watt was previously secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, where he earned €211,000.

In his new role in the Department of Health it was revealed that he would receive a salary of €292,000.

In a statement accompanying the government’s announcement of his appointment in April 2020, Watt said he would temporarily waive the €81,000 salary increase “until the economy begins to recover and unemployment falls”.

Questions have now been asked as to whether he has now accepted the pay increase. Earlier this week, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien said there should be transparency about his salary.

‘There shouldn’t be any secrets around salaries like that. People know what I earn. People know what other senior civil and public-service servants earn as well,” said O’Brien. 

When asked for his view today, Varadkar said it is a “private matter” for Watt, citing  GDPR issues around revealing people’s salaries and pension arrangements.

“So it’s up to him as to whether he wants to or not, as you know, as a Cabinet minister, I surrender 10% of my salary to the State, and have done that for a very long time. Now all Cabinet ministers do, but for civil servants, that’s always a policy decision for himself,” he said. 

It is not the case that all public servant salaries are published, he added. 

“He’s not a public figure. He’s a civil servant. And rules are different for civil servants and public servants… so I can’t answer him… I think it’s a personal matter,” said Varadkar. 

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, a Government spokesperson said whether Watt reveals his salary amount is a “matter for himself”. 

However, he added that “transparency is useful in all these matters”. 

A spokesperson for Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said it is “not a matter of [Eamon Ryan] standing over it”, saying that Ryan stated yesterday that Watt regularly appears before the Oireachtas Committee on Health as well as the Public Accounts Committee where members can ask the secretary general about his pay.

“Whether he chooses to answer is a matter for him,” he told reporters. “If he decides to no longer waive [the pay increase] that is a matter for him [Robert Watt],” the spokesperson added. 

Opposition TDs criticised the decision to appoint Watt last year, pointing out that the temporary waiving of the €81,000 pay increase is superficial.

Social Democrats co-leader, and Public Accounts Committee Vice Chair, Catherine Murphy said that she welcomed Watt’s decision to waive the increase, but said it should be made permanent.

Murphy said today that there needs to be transparency about the salary given his salary comes from the public purse. 

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