Watt to express ‘regret’ at Holohan secondment not proceeding

Secretary general and chief medical officer to appear before Oireachtas committee

It is a "matter of regret" that the proposed secondment of chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan to Trinity College Dublin will not go ahead, an Oireachtas committee will hear on Wednesday.

Robert Watt, the secretary general of the Department of Health, will tell the committee that he believed the proposal was an "innovative" one to increase public health capacity in Ireland – but that funding for the post "was something that needed to be worked out".

“I believed when we conceived this proposal that it was essential that we continued to harness Dr Holohan’s knowledge and skills in the public interest and I regret that this will no longer be possible,” he will tell the committee.

He will say the anticipated approach envisaged that Dr Holohan would be paid "in time, as part of a wider fund which, it was envisaged, could be administered by the Health Research Board (HRB), with details to be agreed between all three parties, as per the well-established practice of funding of health research in the third-level sector".

The proposal was in line with the Government’s commitment to investing in public health, Mr Watt will say.

The HRB has said it was not aware of its putative role in the arrangement. Mr Watt will tell the committee that the funding of the post was “something that needed to be worked out” and it was envisaged it would “involve competitive funding organised appropriately” and that the department “would support the development of this innovative approach to progressing an important initiative through dedicated additional research funding”.


He will appear before the Oireachtas health committee alongside Dr Holohan on Wednesday morning to discuss the background to the controversial appointment, which was abandoned after the Taoiseach paused it when details of how it was to function as a secondment emerged.

“It was clear to me that this proposal was in line with the Government’s commitment to investing in public health, as outlined in the programme for Government,” Mr Watt will tell the committee.

He will say that Dr Holohan, who had indicated in August 2021 that he was considering leaving his role, had been in discussions with third-level institutions about how the Department of Health could improve public health policy-making.

“Over the course of these engagements, the proposal for a professorship emerged, the purpose of which was to ensure that Dr Holohan’s experience and skillset remained within the public service, with a view to strengthening public health capacity and leadership in Ireland.”

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times