€2m-a-year | 

Tony Holohan had option to do side-jobs in the private sector under planned Trinity College role

Chief medical officer’s new job would have been part of €2m-a-year package for the Dublin college

Dr Tony Holohan announced last Saturday he would not be taking up the Trinity College job offer following the controversy. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Eilish O’Regan and Philip Ryan

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan would have been allowed to undertake paid work in the private sector as part of a €2m-a-year teaching and research package while a Trinity College professor.

The revelation is made in a letter from Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt to Trinity Provost Linda Doyle last month where he set out the terms and conditions of the new post.

Dr Holohan, who is in his mid-50s, was to remain a civil servant and employed by the Department of Health but would be on indefinite secondment to Trinity until he retired in around 10 years, while retaining his chief medical salary of €187,000 and any pay increases due under his grade.

Mr Watt in his letter – which he said should be strictly confidential – said Dr Holohan could also “undertake work (remunerative or voluntary) outside of the public service which is not in conflict with his role in Trinity College”.

Dr Holohan announced last Saturday he would not be proceeding with the post after Taoiseach Micheál Martin called for a pause in the process. The Taoiseach had concerns around transparency and use of public money.

Dr Holohan, who had intended his post to enhance pandemic and other preparedness, said he believed it was a chance to develop much-needed public health capacity and leadership.

He will retire in July but looks forward to “sharing my knowledge and expertise outside the public service”.

Mr Watt’s letter of intent on March 16 – it was agreed to by the Trinity provost – emphasised that the contents had to be kept strictly confidential.

Mr Donnelly, who only found out last Tuesday that Dr Holohan would be seconded and not employed by Trinity College, will now set up an external review of the process and decision-making around the appointment.

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly yesterday said the minister will be appointing the external expert to examine the process and deliver recommendations on the lessons learned.

The Department of the Taoiseach yesterday did not respond to questions around its former secretary general Martin Fraser who, according to the Watt report, was told by Dr Holohan in February he was going on secondment and later inquired how the matter was progressing.

Mr Watt said he interpreted Mr Fraser’s interest as a signal of high-level support.

Mr Fraser is likely to be quizzed by the external reviewer on what he knew and how he relayed this information to the Taoiseach.

Mr Watt, in the March letter to Trinity, said the annual ring-fenced allocation of €2m to support Dr Holohan and his research would be administered by the Health Research Board although details had to be finalised.

But the Health Research Board (HRB), which has to be rigorous in its allocation of funding, yesterday said it had been cited in the briefing paper about the proposed Holohan secondment as the potential ‘conduit’ for funding.

“The HRB wishes to clarify that it was not involved in any discussion around this post and has received no correspondence from either the Department of Health or Trinity College in relation to funding the chief medical officer secondment,” it said.

“The minister has announced his intention to carry out an external review in respect of the proposed secondment and research proposal and the HRB will cooperate fully with this review should we be requested to do so.”

The Taoiseach yesterday insisted he was not aware of any issues around the research role or the secondment.

“The research proposal itself in terms of building up capacity around pandemic preparedness has merit given what we’ve all been through. We could, in all likelihood, have future pandemics but again an external review will now take place to learn lessons from this,” he said.

“The entire episode is regrettable. I think people acted with good intentions but clearly the key from a communications perspective and other issues, there are clearly lessons to be learned from all of this.

“An external review will now take place to really lay out those lessons to be learned.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson on public expenditure and reform Mairéad Farrell has claimed “scant regard was shown for taxpayers’ money in the handling of the proposed appointment of Dr Holohan to Trinity”.

It is important an external review is done “so we know what happened and why”, a government source said.

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