Taoiseach had ‘no hand, act or part’ in Tony Holohan job move

Chief Medical Officer’s secondment to TCD criticised in Dáil as ‘evidence of a cosy cartel’

The Taoiseach has told the Dáil that he had "no hand, act or part" in the secondment of chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan to a professorship at Trinity College Dublin.

Micheál Martin said he was not involved "one way or the other" in the decision by the Department of Health to create the post and second the CMO to it "in terms of public health and pandemic preparedness".

With the department continuing to pay his €187,000 annual salary, Dr Holohan will remain a civil servant after he starts working at TCD in July. His move to TCD has been described by the university as “an open-ended secondment” funded by the department.

The department announced last month that Dr Holohan was stepping down from his position as CMO to take on a new role as professor of public health strategy and leadership at TCD.

Dr Holohan became a national figure during the Covid crisis, when he led the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet). In the Dáil, Independent TD Mattie McGrath claimed the move was “evidence of a cosy cartel”. He said Dr Holohan could dip “his toe in academia” and have his salary paid by the department “while people wait for all kind of treatments”.

“You’re taking the public for right patsies and that’s one thing they are not,” he said. “Show some respect, stop this double-jobbing and scandalous waste of money.”

‘Odd situation’

Róisín Shortall said it was “a very odd situation” for Dr Holohan to have been granted an open-ended secondment from the department.

“If he is leaving his post, how is he being seconded?” she asked. “Does that mean he’s retaining that post within the department?”

The CMO is being seconded to Trinity under the same terms and conditions as his existing contract, a spokeswoman for the university said.

“Secondments between organisations are a regular and common feature across the civil and public service to encourage inter-departmental and inter-agency co-operation and the sharing of knowledge and skills in the public interest,” she added.

According to Trinity, the post of professor of public health strategy and leadership, which was not put out to public competition, was “created with Dr Holohan in mind” in the context of global events such as conflict, climate change, migration and the Covid-19 pandemic that impact on almost every aspect of human life.

As for the procedures followed for approving the new post, these were “in line with normal processes and akin in some respects to the creation of a new professorship funded by a research body”.

Selection committee

His appointment was approved on March 25th following an interview by a selection committee comprising the provost, vice-provost, three faculty deans and an external assessor from the University of Milan.

According to Trinity provost Prof Linda Doyle, Dr Holohan's role "will traverse the faculties of arts, humanities and social sciences and health sciences, recognising the complexity and scope of population health challenges in the modern era".

The end of the two-year Covid-19 crisis has sparked a number of moves at the top of Irish health, and is also hastening the departure of senior frontline staff who are nearing retirement.

This week, the HSE announced its chief operating officer Anne O’Connor was leaving for the private sector as managing director of the VHI’s health and wellbeing division.

The chief operations officer of the Department of Health Catherine Bannon is also leaving her role for another post in the civil service.