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All Government departments expected to respond on top-up payments by start of December

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee has sent out letters asking whether official pay caps were breached elsewhere, following this week’s controversy at the HSE.

Image: hand signing a cheque via Shutterstock

THE HEAD OF the Dáil Public Accounts Committee has said he expects all Government Departments to respond to letters on the subject of top-up payments to senior staff by the beginning of December.

The Committee has sent out letters in the past few days asking whether official pay caps were breached.

It follows the revelation this week that 24 state-funded hospitals and health agencies have breached pay guidelines, with some senior executives receiving top-ups to their salary.

Under Section 38 of the Health Act 2004, which includes both health agencies and voluntary hospitals,  bodies may not supplement approved rates of remuneration with either Exchequer funding or non-Exchequer sources of funding.

Of 44 organisations, 36 have provided a reply and 24 of those returned a status of non-compliance. 12 reported compliance.

The first such breach was discovered in May at Tallaght Hospital, and the internal HSE audit was carried out as a result.

Speaking in the Dáil this week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the Government was currently in the process of “attempting to weed out any additional sweeteners”.

Public Accounts Committee Chairman John McGuinness said he was concerned the practice could be be more widespread.

“Its a huge concern that people at that level should be taking home payments that we didn’t know anything about,” the Fianna Fáil TD told TheJournal.ie.

He said it was “peculiar” that the situation hadn’t come to light during an earlier Department of Public Expenditure review of allowances, completed last year.

“When you’re running a business properly, if you’re paying out money, somebody at senior level has to sanction it.

“We need to establish what’s going on in relation to HSE and who gave the authorisation for the payments.”

Director General Tony O’Brien and other senior officials at the HSE are due before the Committee next week to answer questions on the issue. McGuinness said that the letters to other departments had been sent “over the last few days” and that responses were expected within ten days.

Responding to an enquiry from TheJournal.ie on whether there could be further top-up arrangements that haven’t yet come to light, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Expenditure said:

“Every Government department is responsible for ensuring that its agencies operate within Government pay policy guidelines.”

The spokesperson also drew a distinction between the two review processes, noting that one was into “authorised and sanctioned allowances payable within the public service” while the second was an internal HSE audit report “on unsanctioned top-up payments”.

Read: HSE pay breach ‘should be addressed’ – Howlin >

Read: Government ‘attempting to weed out’ top-up payments to health executives – Kenny

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