astonishing | 

Former Labour chief says Robert Watt has to get 'slap on wrist' over Holohan controversy

'It would have been a wonderful thing to have Tony Holohan as professor of public health in Trinity College'

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said on Saturday that he would not take up the role at Trinity College Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

A former senior of the Labour Party has said secretary-general at the Department of Health, Robert Watt, has to get “at least a small slap on the wrist” over the Tony Holohan controversy.

The party’s former general-secretary, Ray Kavanagh was speaking to Newstalk as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly is set to reviews a briefing from Mr Watt on the dropped move of the outgoing Chief Medical Officer to Trinity College Dublin.

Mr Kavanagh told Newstalk Breakfast the report compiled by Mr Watt is about Mr Watt.

"It's absolutely astonishing - this Government has an unbeatable record of when they get into a hole to keep digging, instead of to confront the problem and to deal with it.

"This could have been resolved maybe a week ago when the whole thing started very quickly, if they came out with their hands up and said 'An appalling mistake has been made'.

"Now they've compounded it by getting the second most-senior civil servant to do a report into himself.

"Stephen Donnelly has a report now in front of him by Robert Watt, and it's basically about what Robert Watt's actions were over the last fortnight."

"Robert Watt has to get at least a small slap on the wrist for taking over what I think is a ministerial prerogative in such an important position,” Mr Kavanagh added.

“Using his own initiative and his own powers to make low-level appointments in the civil service I suppose that's something that is acceptable.

"But when you go up to the higher stuff, somebody of the status of Tony Holohan, surely you need ministerial or Government involvement?"

He says Minister Donnelly should have published the report straight away.

"Of course, in line with Government behaviour, Stephen Donnelly - instead of immediately publishing this report last night - having all the talk about it today and having it over and done with - is going to drag it out for days and days now.

"As if he has to study it - maybe he's a slow reader or something like that, but I don't think so.

"He's just pulling it back and back and back".

And he says while Dr Holohan would have suited the role, the secondment element of it was untrue.

"It would have been a wonderful thing to have Tony Holohan as professor of public health in Trinity College.

"But this yarn about 'it's a secondment' - it was not a secondment.

"A secondment is when you leave you job on a temporary basis, with the option of returning within a particular timeframe.

"It was nothing like this; this was just a man moving from one job to the other and his previous employer was going to pay his salary.

"It was so irregular and unheard of, there isn't even a name for it."

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