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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Pat Flanagan

Pat Flanagan: Civil servant shows what’s Watt when it comes to decisions

We owe a debt of gratitude to Ireland’s highest-paid civil servant Robert Watt, for he has shown in the clearest possible manner who is actually running the country.

The bungled secondment of Dr Tony Holohan to Trinity College has once again dispelled any illusion that it is the Taoiseach and his ministers who are in charge.

In this country it’s not a case of “Yes, minister” when it comes to the most senior civil servants, it’s a case of “I’m not even going to bother telling you what’s going on, minister”.

READ MORE: Pat Flanagan: Ireland's pension plans may cause another ticking time bomb

You would imagine after the row surrounding the €86,000 increase to his salary, bringing it to almost €300,000, that the Secretary General at the Department of Health would have steered clear of potential controversies.

Then again, that would be the thinking of an ordinary citizen and not one of a group of overpaid very senior civil servants who act like they are beyond accountability.

Therefore it is not surprising that this elite, which amounts to a permanent unelected government, displays a casual contempt for the ministers it supposedly serves.

So what has Watt got, apart from a near supernatural ability to cause unnecessary controversy, that makes him the most expensive public servant in the land?

In the last few days we’ve had a report by Mr Watt on the conduct of Mr Watt which concluded, as expected, that Mr Watt did everything by the book over the appointment of Dr Holohan.

Not everyone is happy, especially parody news accounts like Dr Harold News, which has rightly complained that it’s increasingly hard to do satire in this country.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has ordered an independent review of the now abandoned secondment, which is what he should have done in the first place instead of getting a
report from the man who caused the controversy.

Mr Watt’s appointment of the outgoing Chief Medical Officer to a position at Trinity Collage on a salary of €187,000 without fully informing the Health Minister shows Mr Watt has lost none of his arrogance.

Micheal Martin was kept totally in the dark about the secondment while Mr Donnelly wasn’t made aware of the finer details of the move.

It is believed that the research programme at Trinity would have cost around €2million a year, or €20million over 10 years.

Mr Watt has insisted that this is just a personnel issue but the Taoiseach said that such huge spending over many years requires “approval by government”.

Then again, wasn’t it approved by the permanent unelected government?

What makes this even more scandalous is that a new Chief Medical Officer would have to be appointed to replace Dr Holohan leaving the taxpayer footing the bill for two posts.

After Dr Holohan announced he plans to retire as CMO and not take up the new post over the controversy the Provost of Trinity Dr Linda Doyle described his decision as a “huge loss for Ireland’s education sector”.

She is probably right but this would not have happened if it had been handled properly.

The Taoiseach is now claiming that what took place was “regrettable” and that “lessons have been learnt”. Now where have we heard that one before?

Actually, Mr Martin said almost the same thing last September after the controversy surrounding the appointment of former Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone to a made-up UN job in New York.

In the wake of that inside civil service appointment that he knew nothing about Mr Martin said: “We would prefer if this hadn’t happened, but there are lessons to be learned from it.”

The reality is nothing has been learned except that there is a State within a State that knows it is untouchable and will continue to make major decisions.

It is understood that Mr Watt and other senior civil servants are to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Finance after Easter where they should be reminded of their job titles.

They seem to have forgotten the servant bit and are instead acting like masters answerable to no one but themselves.

If Mr Watt wants to make governmental-type decisions he should run for the Dail.

That of course would entail a nearly €200,000 pay cut.

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