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Mairéad Farrell TD blasts Robert Watt’s confirmation as Health Secretary General on €282k salary

12 April, 2021 - by Mairéad Farrell TD

Mairéad Farrell TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, has today blasted Robert Watt’s appointment as Secretary General to the Department of Health on a salary of €282k. Mr Watt will now be amongst the highest paid Civil Servants in the EU. 

Teachta Farrell said: 

"This entire debacle made a mockery of the process of top civil service appointments, a mockery of the Dáil committees (Finance & PAC) who had agreed a joint framework for reviewing the appointments process, and a mockery of the notion that we’re all ‘in it together’.  

"Minister McGrath came before the Budgetary Oversight Committee and told us that the recruitment for the position was to be an open and transparent process. In reality, when Robert Watt was appointed on an interim basis the writing was on the wall.

"The process by which the astronomical salary was arrived at was extremely opaque and poor by international standards. Almost no attempt at benchmarking seems to have taken place and there was little written correspondence of any consequence pertaining to this. 

"Civil service pay levels are based on relativities and differentials, so it should be clear that a salary jump from 211k to 282k, which means almost 120k in a difference between what the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General, will have a cascade effect in terms of knock on pay claims for other top public and civil servants.

"The Minister said that the large salary was so that we could attract the very best talent from around the world. Yet when questioned about the number of international applications that the Top Level Appointments Commission (TLAC) had received, or the comparative salaries for similar kinds of positions abroad, he wasn’t able to answer.

"The whole thing smacks of the kind insiderism that we think of as ‘jobs for the boys’.

 "I am now seeking information from TLAC about the number of international applicants, their current positions and estimated salaries, and with regard to Irish applicants I would also like to know the breakdown of those applying from within the public service versus those coming from the private sector." 

Teachta Farrell added:  

"What is extremely frustrating about this situation is that it was entirely avoidable. If the Minister had simply adhered to the Public Service Stability Agreement’s (PSSA) salary rules on lateral movements none of this would have happened.

"Minister McGrath likes to talk about the need for fiscal prudence. In fact, it’s become a real watchword of his time as Minister. So, where’s the prudence here? I can’t see it.

"The provision in the PSSA was put there to help manage the costs of the public sector pay bill, meaning if the Secretary General of one department moves to another, staying on the same grade, then no pay increase would arise.

"I wrote to the Commission for Public Service Appointments (CPSA), which is the regulator for Public Service appointments, but I was disappointingly told that they couldn’t comment. I am calling on Minister McGrath to conduct an external review of the way in which top Civil Service appointments are made and salaries set.”

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