Stephen Donnelly described as ‘patronising and frankly embarrassing’ in Dáil

Independent TD Marc MacSharry made comments following interview by Minister

Independent TD Marc MacSharry has described the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly as "evasive, patronising and frankly embarrassing" in the Dáil on Wednesday following an interview in which the minister defended Dr Tony Holohan's secondment to Trinity College Dublin.

Dr Holohan announced last month he would be stepping down from his position as chief medical officer (CMO) to take on the new role of Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at TCD.

He will remain a civil servant and his €187,000-a-year salary will be paid by the Department of Health.

Speaking on RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland, Mr Donnelly said Dr Holohan's new role was a "really positive move" which he fully supported.


Mr Donnelly said that regardless of whether TCD or the Department of Health funded the salary of Dr Holohan, “it is all public money”.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr MacSharry asked would the Taoiseach make himself available for “a lengthy period” to answer questions on “the obscurity around public appointments”.

“There is a crisis in confidence at the moment in terms of public accountability in our senior echelons of our civil service … There is a crisis and people can be forgiven, people like me who are around the Houses [of the Oireachtas] for 20 years for thinking that Cabinet has become little more than merely rubber stamping the will of senior civil servants, who are feathering their own nests while ye run around the world doing other business but are totally unaccountable to these Houses,” he said.

The Sligo-Leitrim TD said Mr Donnelly had been “evasive, patronising and frankly embarrassing” during the radio interview and “treated this House like idiots”.

‘Simply not true’

Mr MacSharry said to the Taoiseach "you need to do something about it" and walked out of the chamber before Mr Martin could answer.

Separately, Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh said while senior policymakers often move into academic and research, it was unusual for a civil servant to maintain their salary and pension entitlements when leaving.

Ms Conway-Walsh said TCD was a public institution but had the “highest level of private revenue of any college”. She said it was “simply not true” to say that Dr Holohan’s salary “would be the same cost on the public purse” whether it was coming from TCD or the Department of Health.

“During the week, I spoke to a lecturer who has been at an institution for 18 years teaching and researching,” Ms Conway-Walsh said.

“There are thousands more like her. The only thing that she has done wrong is not have friends in powerful positions. Does the Taoiseach stand over the stark inequality and lack of transparency around Dr Holohan’s secondment?”

Mr Martin reiterated that he was “not familiar” with the arrangements that were arrived at between the Department of Health, Dr Holohan and TCD regarding the secondment.

“I believe the position was created by Trinity College Dublin in terms of pandemic preparedness and public health and, arising from that, there was a secondment arrangement. Again, the details of that, I was not aware of,” he said.

“In my own view, I think the Chief Medical Officer has, without question, enormous experience, which would be of benefit to the public health arena, and to research and so on in terms of the pandemic and preparedness for future pandemics. Of that, there is no doubt.

"There are joint arrangements between universities and research bodies. My understanding is that the Health Research Board is involved here but again I am not fully au fait with all of the details on it, but many of those are jointly funded."

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times