In the last few days, it has emerged that having held the role of interim Secretary General to the Department of Health, Robert Watt will has been appointed the position on a permanent basis, a move which was approved by the Government. According to BreakingNews.ie, he ‘would receive an increased salary of €292,000 – more than any other civil servant and amounting to a pay increase of more than €80,000 for Mr. Watt’.
This appointment and salary increase was criticised by several opposition figures. According to The Irish Examiner, Sinn Féin Public Expenditure Spokeswoman, Mairéad Farrell said that ‘as a result of the appointment, Mr Watt will now be among the highest paid civil servants in the EU’. ‘This entire debacle made a mockery of the process of top civil service appointments, a mockery of the Dáil committees who had agreed a joint framework for reviewing the appointments process, and a mockery of the notion that we’re all in this together’… The whole thing smacks of the kind of ‘insiderism’ that we think of as jobs for the boys’.
Social Democrats co-leader and Justice Spokeswoman, Catherine Murphy also criticised the appointment and pay rise. ‘This appointment was meant to be an international search and this is the result… It sets a very dangerous precedent and will certainly have knock-on consequences… This was a headhunt, a fait accompli’.
Following the announcement of his appointment as permanent Secretary General to the Department of Health, Robert Watt has announced that he will be waiving the wage increase. In a statement, he said, ‘it had always been my intention that, if I were to be appointed to this role, I would waive this increase until the economy begins to recover and unemployment falls… I am looking forward to continuing the work with my colleagues in the Department of Health on the many challenges we face’.
According to BreakingNews.ie, the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar believed that ‘it’s very much the strong view of Cabinet that this position is a crucial position in our public service and should carry a similar salary to that of the head of the HSE or the head of a semi-state company… So the salary has been agreed by Cabinet, but I understand that Mr Watt himself has decided to waive the higher salary’. Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly also welcomed the appointment of Robert Watt saying that he brings a ‘wealth of experience to this role’.
This decision has been welcomed by Mairéad Farrell, who said on Tuesday that ‘the waiving today by Mr Watt of the outrageous salary increase on a temporary basis must be made permanent… The waiving of the increase quite clearly indicates that the increase was never needed… That there was in fact an applicant willing to take this position at the previous level of pay’. This view was also supported by Catherine Murphy. ‘I welcome the decision of Mr Watt to waive this extraordinary salary increase but any waiver should be permanent, not temporary’.
It remains to be seen whether Mr Robert Watt continues to waive this proposed pay increase of his salary to €292,000 for the long-term. However, it speaks volumes that a civil servant, in the middle of a pandemic, would receive a pay increase of €81,000. Whilst it is an important role, a pay increase of €81,000 was unnecessary, as the salary for Secretary General to the Department of Health was already €211,000 per annum. It certainly makes for grim reading of members of the public. Whenever Watt takes his pay increase, it will certainly be met with dissent from the opposition and the public alike. This is an issue that the Government will need to pay close attention to.