Senior civil servant had ‘no input’ in sanctioning pay rise - McGrath

Minister for Public Expenditure defends new salary of €292,000 for next secretary general in Department of Health

 Michael McGrath: “I would like to clarify for the committee that Mr Watt had no input into my sanctioning of the salary of €292,000 to apply for the open competition for the substantive post.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Michael McGrath: “I would like to clarify for the committee that Mr Watt had no input into my sanctioning of the salary of €292,000 to apply for the open competition for the substantive post.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has said senior civil servant Robert Watt had “no input” into the sanctioning of an increase in the salary level for the next secretary general of the Department of Health.

In a letter to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Mr McGrath also says he approved the final terms of the advertisement for the job which offers a salary of €292,000, a rise of more than €90,000 over what the last person to hold the role in the Department of Health was paid.

Questions have been raised about the process by which the pay level increase was decided upon and the role played by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) in the matter.

Mr Watt was last month moved from his former job as secretary general of DPER to become the interim secretary general of the Department of Health while the job is advertised on a full time basis.

He would be in line to earn around €81,000 more than his salary at DPER if he applied for the job and secures the role.

Mr McGrath will be quizzed on Tuesday on the decision to raise the salary level for the job at the Department of Health by members of the Committee on Finance.

In his letter to the committee he says that the recruitment process is ongoing and it’s important that commentary on the matter is “cognisant of this fact” and not prejudicial to the outcome.

Mr McGrath says that he engaged with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the secretary general to the Government Martin Fraser in relation to the terms for the recruitment of the new Department of Health secretary general.

He says that in recent years increased salaries have been agreed for roles like the post of Garda Commissioner – which now stands at €269,068 – and the chief executive of the HSE whose salary is currently €363,248.

This is said to be in recognition of increased responsibilities and challenges associated with the roles and the need to attract candidates of “a necessary calibre to deliver on Government priorities”.

Mr McGrath says the post of secretary general at the Department of Health is a “highly complex one with a very challenging brief, particularly so in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Improved terms

His letter says the €292,000 salary is “commensurate” with the scale of the responsibilities that come with the job.

Mr McGrath says he approved the final terms of the advertisement for the post on December 30th, 2020 and the Cabinet was told on January 6th, 2021 that the competition was to commence with the improved terms and conditions for the job.

He said the decision to appoint Mr Watt to the Department of Health on an interim basis pending the holding and conclusion of the open competition “is a matter for Government”.

Mr McGrath adds: “I would like to clarify for the committee that Mr Watt had no input into my sanctioning of the salary of €292,000 to apply for the open competition for the substantive post.”

He also says the newly sanctioned salary will only apply to the person who is appointed to the permanent job.

The post has been advertised in Ireland and internationally and Mr McGrath said the selection process is being undertaken by the Top Level Appointments Committee (TLAC).

Mr McGrath says the TLAC operates under a code of practice “in accordance with the principles of merit, consistency, accountability, probity, best practice and professional confidentiality”.

He said they will consider any applications received by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) and the same recruitment process will apply to all candidates.

At the end of the process the TLAC can recommend up to three names considered to be of the standard required for the post to Government.