Dr Tony Holohan keeps Department of Health € 187k salary and public sector pension – but politicians can’t explain how he landed new Trinity College role

Health Minster Stephen Donnelly has said he did not sign-off on Dr Tony Holohan’s secondment to a Trinity College Dublin post.

he minister’s department will pay Dr Holohan’s € 187,000 salary when he takes up the role.

Today, the minister said he was made aware of the move two weeks ago.

Mr Donnelly said he “fully supports” the appointment and argued the arrangement was not uncommon in the healthcare sector.

“There are plenty of people in the Department of Health who have been seconded in parts of the public sector and indeed there are Department of Health officials who are currently working in other parts of the public sector.

“So, that’s quite normal,” he said on RTE Radio One.

“We have consultants that the HSE funds in universities all the time. There’s a very, very close collaboration between healthcare and academia for all the obvious reasons.

“Tony’s going to be involved now in educating future public health leaders. We have consultants in many hospitals around the country who have academic posts, who are involved in research, who are involved in training clinicians. ”

Mr Donnelly described the CMO’s appointment to the major research position in Trinity as a “positive move” and said, “it’s all public money”.

“Regardless of whether the department paid it, or Trinity paid it or they paid some each [his salary]it’s all public money, ”he said.

“But remember Dr Holohan could, if he wanted, stay in his role of Chief Medical Officer, stay within the Department of Health for many years to come and obviously the department would pay.

“The Department of Health and the country is really going to benefit greatly out of this.”

It comes after it emerged Dr Holohan is still guaranteed his gold-plated pension when he retires, despite stepping away from his current job for an academic post this summer under a deal worked out for all civil servants last year.

Initially it was revealed that Dr Holohan will hold on to his salary of over € 187,000 when he becomes a Trinity College professor in July.

Now it has emerged that from last year anyone on secondment in the civil service can hold on to pension benefits based on their grade.

A press release from the Department of Health announcing his Trinity appointment last month did not say he would remain on his current salary, which is paid through the civil service.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath has labeled the Dr Holohan appointment to Trinity College on secondment as “unusual.”

Minister McGrath told The Tonight Show on Virgin Media One night that he “certainly was not involved in this decision” but that there is a “circular and policy in place in respect of secondments”.

The “normal circumstances” when a public servant is seconded is for the organization they go to pay for their salary, Minister McGrath explained.

However, the fact that the chief medical officer is going to Trinity on an open ended secondment and the college was not footing the bill, was he admitted not the norm.

“It is unusual in that sense,” Minister McGrath said. “The default should be the person’s body is seconded to would pay… but it’s open to the line department to enter into specific arrangements if they believe that’s appropriate.

“I am sure they’ll provide an explanation for the context in the period ahead.”

Minister McGrath explained he did not “have all the facts to hand.”

However, the minister said it was “normally the case where the body where the person is being seconded would pick up the cost of the salary.”

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform disclosed the new policy on secondment yesterday after it was confirmed Dr Holohan will keep his salary when he becomes professor of public health strategy and leadership in Trinity from the next academic year.

The policy says pension benefits for seconded staff “will be based on the grade the individual is employed in their parent organization”.

The Department of Health did not respond to a query on what grade Dr Holohan was on, after Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall questioned how both he and his successor could be on the same salary. She said it was a “very odd situation”.

A department spokeswoman confirmed Dr Holohan’s secondment is “open-ended” and said it was “a regular feature across civil and public service to encourage sharing of knowledge and skills in the public interest”.

However, the Department of Public Expenditure could not say how many civil servants are on secondment, adding it is at the discretion of the department where the person is working.

The Department of Health declined to say if any representations had been made to Trinity by Dr Holohan or others. A spokeswoman said the position was created by Trinity with Dr Holohan in mind in light of ongoing global issues, such as the recent pandemic.

Dr Holohan was interviewed by a panel, and his job as chief medical officer will be filled through open competition under the Public Appointments Service and the Top-Level Appointments Committee.

Earlier yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was not involved, in one way or the other, with the Trinity appointment.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said it was evidence of a “cozy cartel, or a two-tier or three-tier society – where people have to try and survive, and yet you can do this for Dr Holohan, your friend from way back”.

Separately, Dr Holohan has told the Oireachtas Health Committee that he will not be able to appear before it until after the Easter recess.

David Cullinane of Sinn Féin, who sought Dr Holohan’s appearance last week, said it was “quite bizarre” that he would not be available until the end of April to outline the rationale for current public health advice.

The Dáil will go into recess at the end of this week and not return until April 25.

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