Donnelly to publish Watt report on Holohan secondment within days

State chief medical officer would have continued to get department salary of €187,000

The report on Dr Tony Holohan’s secondment from the Department of Health to an academic position in Trinity College Dublin will be published within a number of days, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has confirmed.

Mr Donnelly told The Irish Times on Monday that he had received a detailed briefing document from the Secretary General of the Department, Robert Watt, and is currently reviewing it.

“My intention is to publish the report,” he said but added he would not do so until the review was completed and all relevant people consulted.

Dr Holohan was appointed as Professor of Public Health Strategy at TCD on March 25th and announced on the same day he was stepping down as chief medical officer.


Mr Donnelly only learned on April 5th that he would continue to remain a Department of Health employee on a salary of €187,000 per annum. While he had no intention of returning to the role, his transfer was described as an “open-ended secondment”.

Following the disclosure, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that the appointment would be “paused” pending a report on the matter compiled by Mr Watt.

Mr Watt is understood to be the official who sanctioned the transfer of Dr Holohan to TCD on March 25th, following consultation about the new position between senior officials, including Dr Holohan, and senior figures in the university.

However, over the weekend, Dr Holohan announced he would not take up the TCD role but would retire from the department on July 1st.

Mr Watt’s report was furnished Mr Donnelly on Monday evening and will be considered by him in consultation with Government colleagues.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for both Mr Donnelly and the Taoiseach repeated that they had only learned of the secondment arrangement last Tuesday, April 5th, contrary to media reports at the weekend that suggested both were aware of the arrangement at an earlier date.

Mr Donnelly confirmed that on Monday night. He said that there may have been some confusion following his interview with Morning Ireland on Wednesday.

When asked about when he became aware he had assumed the question referred to the appointment to TCD, rather than to the secondment. He had replied he was aware around the time of the announcement.

He said that he in fact had only become aware later that Dr Holohan would be seconded from the Department of Health, and retain his departmental salary, on Tuesday April 5th.

It was also suggested in media reports over the weekend that the Health Research Board (HRB) would be one of a number of bodies which would have been responsible for funding the new position.

However, the HRB, in a statement to The Irish Times, said it played no role in Dr Holohan’s appointment, or his salary.

It said it runs occasional open and competitive calls to allow higher-education institutions nominate people for research leader awards. It is advertised and run in an open competition, using an international adjudication panel.

“Dr Tony Holohan’s secondment was not part of one of these processes,” it said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times