‘Real government’ of senior officials are running Ireland – not representatives chosen by the people, Dáil told
26th April 2022
The Taoiseach is being challenged to explain the power of senior civil servants as one senior official has refused to account for decisions involving €20m in taxpayers’ money.
In a strong Dáil statement, Social Democrat co-leader, Catherine Murphy, said the Health Department secretary general, Robert Watt, had refused to even reply to a request that he attend a meeting of the Oireachtas finance committee to explain the botched appointment of Dr Tony Holohan to Trinity College.
“Who’s running this country? Is it your Government – or is it the ‘permanent government?’” Ms Murphy challenged Mr Martin.
“We know that the secretary general for the Department of Health is in a rarefied position – not least because his pay-grade is above yours,” Ms Murphy added. This is a reference to Mr Watt’s salary of €295,000 per year.
The Kildare North TD said Mr Watt had thought so little of the Oireachtas Finance Committee that he had not even responded to a request to attend a hearing tomorrow.
Ms Murphy said TDs and senators on the Finance Committee had a duty to “interrogate” issues such as the botched appointment of outgoing chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, to a research post in TCD involved a funding package totalling some €20m.
“So, who exactly is running the country? It’s certainly not your ministers,” the Social Democrat co-leader said.
Replying, Taoiseach Micheál Martin did not directly address the issue of Mr Watt’s attendance before Oireachtas committees.
He said Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, will attend a committee hearing, but he first wanted the outcome of an external investigation into the matters surrounding Dr Holohan’s appointment.
Mr Martin argued it made sense for any committee hearing to await the investigation outcome which was due within weeks.
He also argued that just one committee – not three committees of TDs and senators – should examine this issue.
The Taoiseach said the health, finance and public spending committees were all looking at holding hearings.
It was unreasonable to expect ministers and officials to deal with something three times.
Ms Murphy also pointed to media reports of junior minister responsible for disability issues, Anne Rabbitte, expressing her frustration at not being being able to meet senior officials about funding.
The Taoiseach paid tribute to Minister Rabbitte’s work. He said there will be a review of disability issues and he stressed that she should be able to meet all officials.