Stephen Donnelly in line for temporary second private secretary due to workload

Six-month post created amid ‘unprecedented activity’ for Minister and Department of Health

A spokesman for Minister for Health Simon Donnelly said that last year the Minister’s office had to deal with 26,000 pieces of correspondence – a 355% increase over 2016. File photograph: Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is being temporarily assigned a second private secretary to help him manage a period of "unprecedented activity" during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Expressions of interest are being sought for the new six-month role from civil servants in the Department of Health for the new role in the Minister's office.

The appointment is being made in response to strain from the significant increase in workload on the Minister’s team over the near two-year pandemic.

Department staff were told in a circular on Friday that the position has been created “to assist in the management of the minister’s office during this time of unprecedented activity for the minister and the department”. The notice indicates the post will be for six months initially and then reviewed. There was “no guarantee that the role will continue beyond the initial six-month period”.


No other member of the Cabinet, including the Taoiseach, has two private secretaries.

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly said that last year the Minister’s office had to deal with 26,000 pieces of correspondence – a 355 per cent increase over 2016. He said the office was also dealing with almost 30 per cent of all parliamentary questions tabled to Ministers, a near doubling in five years, along with substantial increases in requests for data under the Freedom of Information Act, which are up 114 per cent.

The spokesman said that more than 180 regulations were processed by the office last year.

Private secretaries manage a minister’s private office, serving as the principal link between him/her and departmental officials. They normally oversee diary commitments and daily parliamentary duties along with managing correspondence and representations sent or received by the minister, regularly writing on his/her behalf and acknowledging receipt of correspondence.

New recruit

The notice states that private secretary responsibilities include managing the Minister’s offices in the Dáil and at the department’s Miesian Plaza offices on Lower Baggot Street. The new recruit will also be required to ensure the “highest level of confidentiality is upheld in the office”, including “correspondence and other sensitive material/meetings”.

The position comes with an annual allowance of almost €21,000.

The new secretary will also be tasked with making sure that the Minister is prepared fully for all engagements and meetings, ensuring that he has speeches and briefing notes, and accompanying him on official engagements when required, including occasional overseas travel.

There have been significant internal changes at the department since Robert Watt became secretary general last year. He restructured it, creating a new role of chief operations officer and a corporate operations office to help manage the pandemic response.

Mr Watt confirmed last week that he is now in full receipt of his €294,920 salary after waiving an €81,000 increase he received when appointed in April 2021.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times