Robert Watt’s salary on course to top €300,000 later this year

Civil servant received €81,000 pay rise when appointed secretary general of Department of Health

The salary of senior civil servant Robert Watt is on course to top €300,000 later this year when the last increase in the current public sector pay deal kicks in.

There has been controversy over the €81,000 pay rise Mr Watt received when he was appointed as the secretary general of the Department of Health on a permanent basis in April last year.

John McGuinness, the chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance - who has been highly critical of the initial €81,000 pay increase for Mr Watt - has said he should not get more increases.

However, during an appearance at the committee on on Wednesday Michael McGrath, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said that further increases are part of the wider public sector pay deal and that excluding an individual is not the way collective agreements are done.

Mr McGuinness's committee, along with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) examined the issue of senior public sector executives' in the wake of questions over the processes involved in Mr Watt's appointment to the Department of Health job on an interim basis in January 2021 pending an open competition for the permanent role.

The committees’ report found that the interim appointment and salary increase were arranged in an “ad hoc fashion following discussions among a small number of senior officials and members of the Government”.

Mr McGrath said on Wednesday that he has considered the report and his intention is to propose the establishment of an independent, external review panel to strengthen the recruitment process for senior public service posts including making recommendations on the process of determining terms and conditions for such jobs.

Mr Watt said last April that he would waive the €81,000 the increase “until the economy begins to recover and unemployment falls”.

It was confirmed last week that he was taking the full salary which at that point stood at €294,920, – including a civil service pay increase that kicked in last October. The Department did not say when Mr Watt stopped waiving the increase.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has since confirmed to Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy that Mr Watt's pay rose to €297,869 as of Tuesday under the Building Momentum public sector pay deal.

Mr McGrath confirmed another 1 per cent increase is due for civil servants from October 1st.

Mr Watt’s salary is set to top the €300,000 mark at that point.

Collective negotiations

Fianna Fáil TD Mr McGuinness claimed that the salary increase for the Department of Health job by €81,000 was "a disgraceful decision taken quietly in some back room in Government Buildings".

Mr McGuinness said: “The public are indeed absolutely outraged and rightly so … but if this was a special arrangement – which it obviously was – there should be no further increases.”

Mr McGrath said Mr McGuinness had made his views known on the issue “But when you are Minister and you are answering questions like the ones being put to me I have to set out what the legal position is and I can’t go beyond that.”

He said the Building Momentum pay deal involves three single 1 per cent pay increases.

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy asked if it did not strike anybody as sensible to ensure that contractually these pay hikes would not be applicable to the job given that an €81,000 pay increase had been approved.

Mr McGrath said public pay deals involve collective negotiations.

He added: “what you don’t do in a collective national agreement that covers about 360,000 people is to seek to carve out one particular cohort or perhaps you’re suggesting one particular individual.

“That’s not the way collective agreement is done in relation to public service pay.”