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Saturday 30 September 2023 Dublin: 17°C
Leah Farrell
# tony holohan
'Unusual characteristics' to CMO's new Trinity role, public expenditure minister says
Dr Holohan will be stepping down as the country’s Chief Medical Officer to take up the role at TCD in July.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 6th 2022, 1:34 PM

THERE ARE SOME “unusual characteristics” to Dr Tony Holohan’s new role with Trinity College, according to Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath.  

Speaking to reporters in the Department of Finance today, the minister also confirmed that approval from his department was not sought for the Department of Health to pay his salary while in his new role. 

Dr Holohan will be stepping down as the country’s Chief Medical Officer to take up the role as a Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at TCD in July. 

It emerged yesterday that this post is an “open-ended secondment” paid for by the Department of Health under the same terms as Dr Holohan’s existing contract. 

Recent reports show the CMO’s salary is around €187,000 per year.

McGrath said he has discussed the matter with his officials and can confirm that they were not involved in the secondment arrangements.

Clarification needed 

While he said that Holohan is no doubt supremely qualified for the role, his department will be seeking clarification around a number of issues relating to the role and the payment of salary.

“I will be engaging with the department head on some of the questions that arise from that.

“Normally secondments are temporary in nature and that will be consistent with the policy that is in place for secondments within the civil service. And also just to clarify the exact source of funding when it comes to the payment of salary and remuneration arrangements into the future,” he said. 

McGrath said a health department circular sets out that it is not necessary in every case for sanction to be provided by the Department of Public Expenditure or that the position has to be advertised.

However, he said there are “some unusual characteristics” to the secondment in relation to the “open-ended nature” of it. 

“It would normally be the case that the the host body that was receiving the services of a person who was seconded would pay the salary,” he added. 

McGrath said he needs to “work through” some of the specifics with the Department of Health.

The secondment and pay arrangements would have been signed off by the Department of Health, McGrath added, though he said he did not know what individual did so. 

Taoiseach not aware of arrangement

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also confirmed in the Dáil today that he was not made aware of the secondment arrangement prior to when it was reported in the media. 

“I wasn’t familiar with the arrangements that were arrived at between the Department of Health, the CMO and Trinity College. I believe the position was created by Trinity College in terms of pandemic preparedness and public health. 

“And arising from that, then there was a seconded arrangement, but again, the details of that I was not aware of,” he added.

“In my own view, I think the chief medical officer has without question, enormous experience, which would be a benefit to the public health arena, to research and so on in terms of the pandemic preparedness for future pandemics, of that there is no doubt,” said Martin. 

When asked about the arrangement in the Dáil yesterday, Martin said he “had no hand, act or part in it”. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said this morning that Dr Tony Holohan’s upcoming job as a professor in Trinity College Dublin is a “really positive move” and said the salary is “all public money” regardless of who pays for it. 

Donnelly has defended the department funding this new role while also recruiting for a replacement Chief Medical Officer in the months ahead.

“We need absolute clarity on it – there is one Chief Medical Officer and there will be one Chief Medical Officer,” Donnelly told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. 

Let’s say the department were to pay [the salary], or Trinity were to pay, or they were to pay some each – it’s all public money. It’s a taxpayer-funded post.

He said Dr Holohan is “not getting paid any more money” than his current salary and called the new role a “really positive move”. 

“We are moving to a really positive position where we’ll have a new Chief Medical Officer come in and we have a guy uniquely qualified to lead research into future pandemic responsiveness,” Donnelly said. 

Donnelly said Dr Holohan has “done an excellent job” as CMO and that “the Department of Health, and indeed the country, is going to benefit very, very greatly” from the research he will be leading on pandemic preparedness. 

The Health Minister said he did not sign off on the role and was made aware of it about two weeks ago. He added that he fully supports the move. 

“Secondments in the public sector, secondments between health and academia are very regular and normal and healthy things,” he said. 

In scathing criticism, Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry hit out at the health minister stating Donnelly on radio this morning was “evasive, patronising and frankly embarrassing”. 

MacSharry told the Taoiseach that Donnelly treated the House “like idiots and you need to something about it”. 

He said the Cabinet are now “merely rubber stamping the will of senior civil servants”.

His question is the “most pertinent question” being asked in terms of taxpayers money, MacSharry argued. Before the Taoiseach could answer, and due to the time for speaking expiring, MacSharry left the Dáil. 

With reporting by Christina Finn

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