Health Research Board says it was not involved in any talks on Holohan secondment

Board issues clarifying statement following release of Robert Watt briefing note on issue

The Health Research Board (HRB) has said it was not involved in "any discussion" around chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan's now-abandoned new academic post at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and received no correspondence from either the Department of Health or TCD in relation to funding the secondment.

The statement from the HRB comes after Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt’s briefing note on the secondment was published on Wednesday evening.

Within the briefing note, it was stated that the department had issued a letter of intent to TCD on March 16th which set out draft details of the secondment to the role of professor of public health strategy and leadership at TCD.

“The department considered that the funding of Dr Holohan’s [proposed new] post was something that needed to be worked out, but that the Department of Health in progressing this important initiative would fund the role as part of a commitment to support research in this area,” the briefing note said.

“It was not explicitly stated but it was envisaged that this would involve competitive funding organised appropriately. The letter of intent therefore provided for Dr Holohan’s salary to be paid as part of a wider fund which it was envisaged could be administered by the Health Research Board, with details to be agreed between all three parties.

“It was never envisaged that this salary would be paid directly on the vote of the Department of Health.”

However, in its statement on Thursday, the HRB noted it had been cited in the briefing paper as “the potential conduit for funding” and said it wished to clarify that it was “not involved in any discussion around this post and has received no correspondence from either the Department of Health or Trinity College in relation to funding the CMO [chief medical officer] secondment”.

“The Minister [for Health Stephen Donnelly] has announced his intention to carry out an external review in respect of the proposed secondment and research proposal and the HRB will co-operate fully with this review should we be requested to do so,” it said.

Open calls

The HRB previously told The Irish Times it played no role in Dr Holohan's appointment to the new role, or his salary.

It said it ran occasional open and competitive calls to allow higher-education institutions nominate people for research leader awards.

“Dr Tony Holohan’s secondment was not part of one of these processes,” it said.

Dr Holohan was due to be continued to be paid his civil servant salary of €187,000 while working at TCD. However, Mr Donnelly was not aware that Dr Holohan’s TCD appointment was a secondment until last week.

There is considerable anger within Government over how the appointment was handled, with much of it directed at Mr Watt.

In the Dáil last Thursday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had said it would have been "far preferable" if the full details of Dr Holohan's secondment had been put into the public domain at the outset.

Dr Holohan has since said he will not go ahead with the secondment and will instead retire as chief medical officer on July 1st.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has ordered an external review into the circumstances surrounding the post.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times