Tánaiste supports Watt’s continued position at Department of Health

Tánaiste Supports Watt’s Continued Position At Department Of Health
Tanaiste Micheal Martin, © PA Wire/PA Images
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By Cillian Sherlock, PA

Senior civil servant Robert Watt brought “stability” with his appointment to the Department of Health and should continue in his role as secretary-general, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

“I believe it’s important that the Secretary General continues as a Secretary General of the Department of Health,” he said.


Mr Watt appeared before the Oireachtas finance committee on Wednesday, when he largely rejected an external review into the controversial proposed secondment of the former chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

Speaking during Leaders Questions on Thursday, Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said this appearance was an “extraordinary spectacle”.



“One of the most senior and highest-paid civil servants in the State engaged in an arrogant two-hour dismissal of an independent expert report commissioned by his line minister,” she said.

She added: “Mr Watt has rejected the findings of the report. They’re not a matter of opinion. They’re based on verifiable facts. They’re not open to debate.”

Ms Cairns said the report showed the Secretary General went on a “solo run” and committed €20 million of public money in the secondment proposal “without any government approvals or oversight”.


She said he failed to provide any rationale for the funding and bypassed the protocols of the Health Research Board.

She accused him of making misrepresentations during the “entire debacle”.



Ms Cairns also described the process around getting Mr Watt to appear as a witness to the committee as a “whole fiasco”.

Responding to a question on whether Mr Watt’s position was tenable and if the Government intended to take action to make him accountable, Mr Martin said that, overall, people involved in the secondment proposal had acted in “good faith”.

He said the Government “entirety accepts without reservation” the recommendations of the review around secondments and added they will be implemented.


Ms Cairns said the Tánaiste had “talked around all of those questions” about Mr Watt’s role.

Mr Martin said when he came into office as Taoiseach in 2020, there was no permanent secretary general in the Department of Health before Mr Watt’s appointment.

“Stability has been brought to the Department of Health,” he said.


“The Secretary General has, in terms of the administration of the Department of Health, been effective in a whole range of fronts. That has to be acknowledged.

“And that was required both coming out of Covid, dealing with the consultants’ contract, Slaintecare implementations and so forth.”

Mr Martin added: “Of course, secretaries general should be accountable to the relevant Oireachtas committees in respect of issues that come under administration.”

On a following session on questions on policy and legislation, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty also raised Mr Watt’s appearance at the Finance Committee.

He described the proposed secondment of Dr Holohan as a “botched attempt”.

Mr Doherty asked what lessons are going to be learned in relation to the external review, given that Mr Watt rejected its findings.

Mr Martin responded: “The Secretary General yesterday was clear, given the Government has accepted it this has to be implemented and recommendations have to be taken on board.”

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