Public Accounts Committee to seek stall on hiring of Department of Health chief

PAC to ask for analysis of decision to raise salary for civil service role to €292,000

The Dáil's spending watchdog has agreed to seek a stalling of the recruitment of a new secretary general for the Department of Health amid concern over the increased salary on offer for the role.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is to write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) to ask that the process be stalled pending an analysis of the decision to raise the salary for the role to €292,000, more than €90,000 over what the previous person to hold the job was paid.

PAC members are concerned about the knock-on effects that the pay rise could have on other high-paid roles in the civil service.

Documents on the matter released to the Committee on Finance last week show that DPER officials warned Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath that the pay scale proposed for the health job could have implications for pay for other top-level civil-service posts.


PAC member Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy proposed the move to write to DPER seeking the stalling of the recruitment process and it was agreed by the committee on Tuesday.

He said the PAC was not satisfied with correspondence it received from DPER on the process for the recruitment of the new secretary general and the remuneration that has been put in place.

Mr Carthy argued that it’s “unjustified expenditure essentially” that would have “far-reaching implications because it would inevitably lead to other pay claims at the senior levels of the civil service.”

He said that as a result the PAC has decided to write to DPER asking them to stall the recruitment process “until such stage as there is a full analysis of the remuneration package” for the new secretary general.

The PAC decision came despite a view from the Committee’s secretariat that the members may be going beyond their remit.

Mr Carthy said that the committee members are “satisfied that we absolutely operated within our remit” adding that the PAC “has a responsibility to ensure that public expenditure is happening in a justified and transparent way.”

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said she is "100 per cent" behind the letter being sent. She said she has "very serious" concerns about the potential knock-on effects of the pay increase as it "leap-frogs very substantially" over what some other department chiefs are being paid.

Mr McGrath last week defended the decision to increase the salary saying in a letter to the Committee on Finance that the job at the Department of Health is a “highly complex one” and “particularly so in the midst of a global pandemic”.

Mr McGrath said that he approved the final terms of the advertisement for the post on December 30th, 2020. The increased salary doesn’t take effect until a permanent secretary general is appointed at the after the ongoing recruitment process finishes.

The former secretary general of DPER Robert Watt has been working as the interim secretary general of the Department of Health. Mr McGrath said Mr Watt had "no input into my sanctioning of the salary of €292,000".

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent