Appropriate for Watt to clarify if he is waiving €81,000 increase, says O’Brien

Robert Watt was appointed role last April on a salary of €292,000

Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Health refused to say if he was still waiving the €81,000 pay increase.  Photo: Collins Photos

Robert Watt, Secretary General of the Department of Health refused to say if he was still waiving the €81,000 pay increase. Photo: Collins Photos

 

A senior minister has said it would be appropriate for the Secretary General of the Department of Health, Robert Watt, to say whether he is still waiving a €81,000 salary increase which applied when he was appointed to the role.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said there “shouldn’t be any secrets around salaries like that” and it is a “reasonable question”.

Mr Watt, the former Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was appointed to the role last April on a salary of €292,000, a€81,000 increase over his previous salary.

Mr Watt said at the time he would waive the increase “until the economy begins to recover and unemployment falls”.

During an appearance at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last month Mr Watt refused to say if he was still waiving the €81,000, telling TDs: “I wasn’t brought here to talk about these matters.”

The Examiner reported on Monday that Mr Watt was in line for a further salary increase of €2,920 last October as part of the wider public pay deal.

At a press conference on the Government’s Mortgage-to-Rent scheme on Monday Mr O’Brien was asked if Mr Watt should outline whether he is now receiving the fully salary.

Mr O’Brien replied: “I think there should not be any secrets around salaries like that and what people earn.

“People know what I earn. People know what other senior, civil and public service servants earn as well.

“I think transparency is always a good thing where it’s appropriate and I would expect that [question]would be answered at the appropriate time.”

Asked if Mr Watt should say if he is still waiving the increase, Mr O’Brien said: “I think it would be appropriate that where a reasonable question like that is asked, that it is answered.”

He said there is transparency on what politicians, public and civil servants earn and “that should apply across the board”.

Private

The Irish Times asked the Department of Health if Mr Watt will say whether or not he is still waiving the salary increase however it said such arrangement are “private in respect of the individual concerned”.

A Department statement said: “The Secretary General arranged on his substantive appointment to the post in April 2021 to waive a portion of his salary on a voluntary basis.

“The Secretary General was appointed on an interim basis in January 2021 on his existing annual gross salary of €211,742.

“In April 2021, following an open Top Level Appointments Committee process, the Secretary General was appointed to the role in line with the terms and conditions approved for the post on an annual gross salary of €292,000.

“The revised Civil Service pay scales which became effective on October 1, 2021 increased that annual gross salary to €294,920.

“Voluntary deductions from pay by any civil servant employed by the Department, including the voluntary waiving of a portion of salary in this way, are not a statutory or contractual requirement and as such the details are personal and private in respect of the individual concerned.”

Salary increase

The PAC and the Committee on Finance last year examined pay for senior executives in the public service.

This was prompted by questions over the process involved in Mr Watt’s appointment to the job on an interim basis in January 2021, pending an open competition for the role.

A report, published last November, found the interim appointment and salary increase were arranged in an “ad hoc fashion following discussions among a small number of senior officials and members of the Government”.

The salary increase only took effect following Mr Watt’s appointment to the role on permanent basis.

The report added: “The committee is of the firm view that operating in this manner has damaged public trust and eroded confidence in the system of public administration.”