controversy Under-fire Health Dept chief Robert Watt jets out to Dubai for wellness conference amid €295k wage storm
- Under-fire Department of Health secretary-general Robert Watt this week jetted out to Dubai to attend a health and wellness expo
- Trip comes amid concern at shocking report from CAHMS service in south Kerry – and health service is engulfed in controversy over Watt’s pay rise
- ‘I think the man who is being paid €295,000 should be at his desk in the Department of Health rather than at some expo in Dubai’ – Fianna Fáil TD
Under-fire Department of Health secretary-general Robert Watt this week jetted out to Dubai to attend a health and wellness expo, as controversy continues to rage over his €81,000 salary increase.
Mr Watt and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly are attending a massive international showcase in the heart of the United Arab Emirates.
The six-month-long exhibition in the hugely wealthy Arab state will focus on mental and physical well-being for the coming days and an Irish delegation flew into Dubai earlier this week.
It is understood they flew to the event in economy-class seats and are not staying in one of the more expensive hotels in Dubai.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Minister Donnelly and Secretary-General Watt are attending and participating in Health Week Expo 2020. This includes supporting Irish companies operating in the region.”
The State visit comes as the Dáil was this week debating the shocking report on the treatment of children attending a mental health facility in Kerry .
Meanwhile, family carers continue to call to be included in the Government’s €1,000 pandemic bonus scheme.
The Dubai Expo’s Health and Wellness week opens with an event called “celebrating unsung heroes”, which highlights the “vital role of frontline health workers in advancing national and global health targets”.
The initial controversy over Mr Watt’s salary increase came at a time when the opposition was critical of the Government for not paying student nurses during the pandemic.
Other events at the expo focus on the use of technology in healthcare, while there are also sessions on preventing and preparing for pandemics.
Mr Donnelly will meet a number of medical tech companies on his trip and attend events organised by Enterprise Ireland and the IDA.
However, last night, Fianna Fáil TD and chair of the Oireachtas Finance Committee John McGuinness said it “beggars belief” that both Mr Watt and Mr Donnelly are in Dubai in a week when the health service has been engulfed in controversy.
“I think the man who is being paid €295,000 should be at his desk in the Department of Health rather than at some expo in Dubai,” Mr McGuinness said.
“I think it is a bad judgment on both of their behalf to be both absent from the Department at a time like this.”
Mr McGuinness said ministers were “rightly held to account” over incidents that happened on their watch, but there should be accountability in the civil service too.
“Robert Watt can’t turn up to a committee but can head off to Dubai,” he said, in reference to Mr Watt’s decision on whether to appear before a joint Finance and Public Account Committee hearing on his controversial top-up.
Mr Watt faced calls this week from three senior Cabinet ministers to reveal whether he was still waiving his €81,000 pay increase.
Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys and Tourism Minister Catherine Martin all said the senior civil servant should be transparent about his taxpayer-funded pay.
Mr Watt refused to answer questions on his salary until ministers called on him to reveal whether he was still waiving the top-up.
When he was first appointed as secretary-general at the height of the pandemic, Mr Watt said he would waive the top-up until the economy improved.
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