Review commissioned over failed CMO university appointment

Review Commissioned Over Failed Cmo University Appointment
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it was important to examine learnings from the controversy involving CMO Dr Tony Holohan. Photo: PA Images
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By David Young, PA

The Government has commissioned an external review of the abandoned appointment of the chief medical officer (CMO) to a university professorship.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said it was important to examine learnings from the controversy involving CMO Dr Tony Holohan.


Dr Holohan ultimately decided against taking up the proposed secondment to Trinity College Dublin after contention flared over the transparency of the process that would have seen the state pay his annual salary of €187,000 through competitive research funding, administered by the Health Research Board.

A report into the controversy compiled by secretary general in the Department of Health, Robert Watt, was published late on Wednesday night.

Mr Watt said Dr Holohan had initiated contact with the third level education sector on a potential new role and indicated a secondment was his preferred option.


The senior official stated that while Mr Donnelly was made aware of Dr Holohan’s planned move to Trinity before it became public, and indicated support for it, he was not informed of the full details of the secondment arrangement.

However, Mr Watt said there was “nothing unusual or exceptional” about the potential arrangements in respect of Dr Holohan, who was poised to become Professor of Public Health Strategy and Leadership at Trinity.

He said it was his delegated responsibility to deal with administration within the Department of Health.

“The Minister was not involved in the specific terms of the arrangements,” he said.


“This is, I believe, appropriate given the division of responsibilities, legislative provisions, custom and practice and normal administrative arrangements.”


Mr Watt also rejected the suggestion that Taoiseach Micheál Martin or other members of the Government had been kept in the dark over the issue. He said secretary to the Government Martin Fraser was aware of the proposed secondment move.

“I assumed that key decision-makers were aware of the proposal but of course not the precise details,” Mr Watt added.

Mr Watt did acknowledge that “elements” of the process were “not communicated well” and that lessons could be learned from that.


Responding to the report on Wednesday night, Mr Donnelly said: “There has been criticism that the Department did not outline the full details of what was being proposed when it was announced.

“The Department has accepted that the proposed arrangements should have been communicated earlier. The Department also acknowledges that there are lessons to be learnt. I am initiating a review, having regard to the process of the proposed secondment of the chief medical officer and research proposal, to examine learnings and recommendations that could inform future such initiatives. I am appointing an external expert to carry out this review.

“It is fully appropriate for there to be scrutiny of significant appointments and announcements. Such scrutiny should be devoid of personalised commentary directed at civil servants who are working in good faith with good intentions.

“We have a strong civil service in Ireland as evidenced throughout the pandemic, and we should not lose sight of that.”


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