impossible position | 

Tony Holohan decided not to take Trinity job due to lack of support from Taoiseach

Mr Martin put a “pause” move to Trinity amid controversy over the transparency and funding of the role

Dr Tony Holohan (Julien Behal/PA)

Fionnán Sheahan and Eilish O'Regan

Dr Tony Holohan decided not to take up his aborted academic role due to the lack of support from Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Mr Martin put a “pause” on the chief medical officer’s move to Trinity College Dublin amid controversy over the transparency and funding of the role.

As a result, Dr Holohan decided not to proceed with his secondment as Professor of Public Health Leadership and Strategy.

He will retire from the public service. But sources close to the CMO point to Mr Martin’s decision.

“Sure, he was humiliated. It was down to a lack of support. It put him in an impossible position,” a senior source told the Sunday World.

Within the health sector, there is annoyance at Mr Martin’s failure to stand over the move by Dr Holohan.

“It was virtue signalling by Micheál,” another source said.

The Taoiseach’s officials were aware of the move, but not the specific details.

“Once the political heat came on, they caved in,” a source said.

In his official statement on withdrawing from the role, Dr Holohan said he did not wish to see the controversy of the last few days continue.

“In particular, I wish to avoid any further unnecessary distraction that this has caused to our senior politicians and civil servants,” he said.

And he defended the creation of the academic role in Trinity.

“My strong belief is that this was a significant opportunity to work with the university sector to develop much-needed public health capacity and leadership for the future,” he said.

“In this regard, I would like to thank Trinity College and the Provost for their foresight and support in establishing this role.”

Dr Holohan will retire as CMO “with effect from July 1” to allow the Department of Health sufficient time to appoint his successor.

He gave a clear indication he will move to the private sector.

“Following my departure, I look forward to sharing my knowledge and expertise outside of the public service.”

The announcement came following days of controversy after the Irish Independent revealed that he would keep his CMO salary of €187,000.

Despite being on a professorship, Dr Holohan’s pay would be €30,000 higher than even the highest professorship at the university.

It has now also emerged that chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is not listed among any of the senior leaders funded by the Health Research Board (HRB) despite reports that it would partly fund his professorship in Trinity College.

A spokeswoman for the HRB said the last time its research leaders award scheme was run was in 2020.

Some media reported in recent days suggested that Dr Holohan, who has now decided not to take up the post of Prof of Public Health Strategy and Leadership in Trinity College , would have part of his €187,000 salary funded by the Health Research Board.

It is still unclear how his salary – which would not be paid by Trinity- would be funded.

The HRB spokeswoman listed seven recipients of research leader awards and Dr Holohan is not among them.

She said: “The last time we ran this scheme was 2020. It was openly advertised, and applications were sought from research performing organisations. All applications were independently peer-reviewed by international experts in the field and the top ranked proposals were funded.

“The HRB funds a wide range of health and social care research programmes, projects, infrastructure and structured training programmes. In line with our strategy, we also support researchers at all career stages, from eight-week summer scholarships for undergraduate students, to senior research leaders in academia and the health system.

“The Research Leaders Award is our current scheme to support senior leaders in professorial positions in clinical, health services and population health research. We currently have seven HRB research leaders.”

She said the maximum value of each award is €1.5 million.

The HRB buys-out the time the lead applicant currently spends on academic non-research activities, up to a level of 50pc and through a backfill arrangement. There is also funding towards the research related costs for the research programme. The duration of each HRB award is five years.

It is unclear if Dr Holohan intended to apply for one of these awards some time in the future when they might be put out to competition again.

However, he was due to take up the Trinity post as early as July .

Meanwhile, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was understood to have received a report last night on the circumstances surrounding the proposed secondment of Dr Holohan.

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly said he was reviewing the report from his department’s secretary-general Robert Watt.

Once reviewed by Mr Donnelly, Mr Watt’s report is due to be considered by the Government.

The Taoiseach and Mr Donnelly have insisted they only learned of the secondment arrangement last Tuesday, April 5

The Taoiseach was forced to defend his own handling of the controversy at the weekend while suggesting that Dr Holohan is not owed an apology after days of ministers criticising civil servants for the handling of the role, especially the outspoken Mr Watt.

Dr Holohan will now spend less than three months as the head of the Government’s new Covid-19 advisory group.

The reigning chief medical officer will step down from his role in July and as a result, will also step down from the new Covid-19 advisory group, established just last week.

A report on the decision-making and process around Dr Holohan’s appointment was completed by Department of Health Secretary General Robert Watt yesterday evening and given to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly who is bringing it to Government.

Today's Headlines

More Irish News

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos