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Harris says it's 'important' Oireachtas gets opportunity to scrutinise salary hike for new Dept of Health Sec Gen

Questions have been raised about the government’s decision to sanction a pay rise of €81,000 for the post.

Minister Paschal Donohoe with interim Secretary General of the Department of Health Robert Watt in 2017.
Minister Paschal Donohoe with interim Secretary General of the Department of Health Robert Watt in 2017.
Image: RollingNews.ie

MINISTER SIMON HARRIS has said to the best of his recollection, there was no memo brought to Cabinet in relation to the salary of the new secretary general at the Department of Health, Robert Watt.

In recent days, questions have been raised about the government’s decision to sanction a pay rise of €81,000 per year for the post of secretary general of the Department of Health.

Speaking to reporters today, he said Cabinet was informed that Watt was being reassigned on an acting capacity to the Department of Health, stating that from his understanding of government and how it works, issues relating to pay would be something that is sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DEPR).

As the former secretary general of DEPR, Watt is currently being paid €211,000.

The new secretary general of the Department of Health will get a €292,000 salary.

The Dáil’s spending watchdog will now investigate the appointment and significant salary increase of the new secretary general.

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee Brian Stanley said last week:

“At a time when hundreds of workers are receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and student nurses are being given a paltry €100 per week, this huge increase in salary for a Departmental Secretary General is in poor taste.

“We need to understand where this salary fits in with the public pay scale guidelines and whether it satisfies the Public Service Pay Commission.

“We need to know more about the appointment process – were individuals headhunted and encouraged to apply, how long was the role publicly advertised and how many individuals were interviewed?”

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Harris said an open and international competition for the role is now underway, stating that it is a very demanding job.

If the Opposition have concerns about the position and the salary, the PAC is the appropriate forum for those matters to be addressed, Harris said.

He said a conclusion should not be drawn before then, adding that it is “important” that the Oireachtas gets the opportunity to scrutinise the matter.

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys was asked about the issue on RTÉ’s News at One, with Brian Dobson asking the minister if she could understand why people would be annoyed with an €81,000 pay hike for one person, when there are such high levels of people on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP).

“I can understand the concern out there but having said that, government has not been found wanting” she said, in terms of rolling out supports such as the PUP, and other supports for businesses.

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