Decision to raise Department of Health chief’s salary ‘stinks’, PAC hears

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy critical of €90,000 pay rise for incoming secretary general

The decision to raise the salary level of the next secretary general of the Department of Health by more than €90,000 "stinks to the high heavens", a member of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has claimed.

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy made the remarks as members of the Dáil's spending watchdog's discussed their intention to investigate the processes around how high level public sector salaries are determined.

It comes after the Government approved a pay rise of more than €90,000 for the position of secretary general of the Department of Health, advertising the role with a salary of €292,000 per annum.

Earlier this month, the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), Robert Watt was appointed as interim secretary general at the Department of Health, pending the competition.


Mr Watt would be in line to earn about €81,000 more than his salary at DPER if he secures the role.

In his PAC contribution on Friday, Mr Carthy claimed that the job is being “teed up”.

Questions have been raised about the process by which the pay level increase for the next Department of Health secretary general was decided upon given the key role of DPER in public pay policy.

Independent TD for Waterford Matt Shanahan wrote to the PAC raising concern about the issue. The PAC subsequently sent a series of questions to DPER and a response is expected in the coming days.

The Committee on Finance is also examining the matter and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath is expected to take questions at its meeting next week.

PAC chairman, Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, told Friday's meeting the issue is "very serious", adding that weeks after it first emerged "we're no clearer as to who made the decision to bump up the pay".

He asked: “Was it civil servants, was it politicians?... Who was involved?”

Mr Carthy welcomed the committee’s intention to investigate the overall issue of remuneration of “high-paid” public servants.

“This issue stinks to the high heavens,” he said. “You have a situation where essentially a job is teed up for former secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform who is now moving into a new department.”

Knock-on consequences

He said there are “many questions regarding the role of DPER in the first instance.”

It is a “concern for many” that the decision to increase the salary level would lead to other high level public servants “seeking significant pay increases”, he said.

He said the PAC has an obligation to look into matter and questioned whether the salary level increase can be reversed.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said the impression has been given from media reports that the PAC and Committee on Finance are at "loggerheads" over which would investigate the issue.

“The key issue here is we actually get to the origin of how this decision was made, what the process was, who was involved in it, what the knock-on consequences are likely to be,” the Kildare North TD said.

She said the PAC’s remit has been constrained by new rules that effectively mean much of its work is limited to examining historic expenditure.

The PAC has sought an extension of its remit from the Committee of Procedure to allow it to look into the overall process of setting higher level pay in the public service.

Ms Murphy said while it does not appear that the PAC will be investigating the decision to increase the salary level , its planned work could compliment any inquiry that may be carried out by the Committe on Finance.

Mr Stanley said the PAC “won’t get into a gun fight with other committees” but it is important that it pursues the issue.

The Department of Health referred a request for comment to the Department of Public Expenditure. It decline to comment.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times