Maura Quinn to carry out external review of abandoned Holohan role

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly says Quinn will report back to him in June

Businesswoman and former Unicef Ireland chief executive Maura Quinn has been appointed to carry out an external review of the now-abandoned secondment of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Tony Holohan to a role at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced the appointment saying Ms Quin will be carrying out the work in a pro bono capacity and she is to report back to him in June.

The terms of reference for the external review are to “determine learnings from the process related to the proposed secondment of the Chief Medical Officer and associated research proposal.”

The review is also to “make recommendations that could inform future such initiatives”.


The secretary general of the Department of Health Robert Watt last week defended his role in the planned secondment including his decision not to inform Mr Donnelly that Dr Holohan was not retiring but would retain his departmental salary of €187,000.

The proposed appointment of Dr Holohan as professor of public health strategy at TCD was to come with an annual ring-fenced allocation of €2 million for the duration of the secondment.

However, it will not now go ahead.

Dr Holohan said in a statement earlier this month that he will not proceed with the secondment and will retire from July instead.

The external review to be carried out by Ms Quinn was ordered by Taoiseach Micheál Martin last week amid continuing controversy caused by the planned secondment of Dr Holohan to a research role at TCD.

Sinn Féin spokesman on health David Cullinane said the external review “must fully examine the processes involved, the conduct of senior civil servants and the potential sign off of millions of euro of state funding without ministerial approval.”

Ms Quinn is the outgoing chief executive of the Institute of Directors.

She has experience in corporate governance and risk management including oversight of start-ups, business transformation and exit strategies.

Ms Quinn also has extensive experience on a variety of boards including Rugby Players Ireland and the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.

She has been chief executive of the Institute of Directors since 2008 and she is to leave that role in June.

Previously she was chief executive of Unicef Ireland between 1996 and 2007.

A briefing note from Mr Watt setting out the circumstances behind the proposed appointment of Dr Holohan to the TCD role was published last week.

Mr Watt stood over his role and defended his decision not to inform Mr Donnelly that it was a secondment, claiming there was “nothing unusual” about the arrangement.

Dr Holohan, he stated, wanted a secondment arrangement as that would protect his salary and benefits.

He also denied that Mr Martin and other members of the Government were "kept in the dark," saying that the secretary general of government Martin Fraser was aware of the proposed secondment move in late February and early March.

Mr Watt accepted in his 12-page briefing note that “elements of this were not communicated well and there are learnings for the Department of Health in this respect”.

He said the press release of the appointment on March 25th had to be rushed out. “In retrospect this allowed inferences to be drawn which are inaccurate,” he said.

In the final paragraph, Mr Watt defends his decision not to tell Mr Donnelly about the secondment. He said it was appropriate for him to tell the Minister about the appointment but not the details, including the secondment.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times