Robert Watt elevation ‘a stroke of the highest order’, claims Sinn Féin

PAC member warns against confirmation of civil service mandarin to €292,000 health post

Robert Watt was previously secretary general at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. File photograph: The Irish Times

Robert Watt was previously secretary general at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Sinn Féin has claimed the appointment of Robert Watt as secretary general of the Department of Health would have “hallmarks of an old-fashioned stroke”.

Sinn Féin member of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Matt Carthy made the remarks amid reports that Mr Watt’s appointment is expected to be ratified by Cabinet. 

It is understood that an independent recruitment process carried out by the State’s Top Level Appointments Committee has ended. And it is expected that Mr Watt’s name will be forwarded to Government in the coming weeks. But it is considered unlikely the promotion will be confirmed at this week’s Cabinet meeting.

Mr Watt is former secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. He was appointed interim secretary general of the Department of Health in January while the recruitment process for the permanent post took place.

Controversy arose when it was announced the new secretary general at the Department of Health would earn an annual salary of €292,000 – more than any other civil servant. Though the salary will not be paid until a permanent appointment has been made.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath has previously said that Mr Watt had “no input” in sanctioning the salary for this post.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has said the new salary is “deemed to be commensurate with the scale of the responsibilities, including the vaccine rollout in the immediate term and the challenges of implementing the Government’s ambition for the rollout of Sláintecare and the budget of €21 billion for health”.

The PAC had called for the recruitment process to be halted pending a review of the decision to raise the salary for the role. It is also involved in a joint review of pay for senior civil and public servants being led by the committee on finance which was launched following controversy over the salary for the next Department of Health secretary general.

‘No justification’

Mr Carthy claimed the process “has had all the hallmarks of an old-fashioned stroke of the highest order”.

He also claimed: “That the secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure, who had responsibility for managing public sector pay scales, could move to another department with a substantial salary hike for which there was no process, no rationale and no justification would signal that this Government has learned nothing from the lessons of Celtic Tiger extravagance.

“Even at this stage the Government should stop this recruitment process and review the salary on offer before any appointment is made”.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure said it had “no comment”.

The departments of the Taoiseach and Health have not responded to a request for comment on Mr Carthy’s remarks.