Opinion: Ambrose McLoughlin’s move evidence of Varadkar’s new broom in health

Former top civil servant to retain €176,000 salary in new post

Dr Ambrose McLoughlin: taking up new role with Healthy Ireland. Photograph: David Sleator

Dr Ambrose McLoughlin: taking up new role with Healthy Ireland. Photograph: David Sleator


Being fired or being let go are very rare occurrences in Irish public service: what usually happens is that alternative posts are found and all the terms and conditions of the job, including salary, are retained.

In short order in recent weeks, we have seen two of the State’s most senior civil servants step down from their positions as the heads of Government departments. Last month, Brian Purcell stood down from the Department of Justice: yesterday it was the turn of Dr Ambrose McLoughlin who was secretary general of the Department of Health.

Both will remain civil servants with alternative responsibilities. In Dr McLoughlin’s case, he will head up an initiative within the Department of Health, Healthy Ireland, between now and his retirement next year.

Both Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and chairman of the Oireachtas health committee Jerry Buttimer praised McLoughlin and the role he has played in the two years he headed the department. But it is obvious the new Minister is keen to bring in a new brush and perhaps a career technocrat close enough to retirement did not fit the image of what he required. Healthy Ireland is a framework that will set guidelines for the population in relation to their personal health and wellbeing. They include dieting, exercise, sunbeds, and tobacco and alcohol consumption. The intention is to make people savvy about all the choices they make about the wellbeing of themselves and their families. It is a praiseworthy initiative, especially, if it has bite. But it will certainly not be as demanding as running the entire health administration.

Yet, McLoughlin will retain his salary of €176,350 per annum. Similarly Purcell will continue to receive his salary package of an estimated €188,000 per annum in his new role within the public service.

Steps down

Michael KellyKevin CardiffEurope

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin changed the rules in 2011.

For the first time, there was no pension payable to new secretaries general prior to pension age and no severance for somebody unless they had not been offered an alternative post.