Jack Quann
Jack Quann

09.55 19 Apr 2021


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Former Cabinet Minister Shane Ross says the Government appears to be having second thoughts over an €81,000 pay rise for the head of the Department of Health.

Robert Watt is set to become the highest paid civil servant in Irish history if the pay increase is approved.

The rise would bring the incoming secretary-general at the Department of Health's salary to just below €300,000.

Mr Watt has been in the role on an interim basis since January.

But Mr Ross told Newstalk Breakfast the salary was already high before the increase.

"Of course you want the best people in the public service, and there's absolutely no doubt about that.

"What Robert Watt was getting, and what the top civil servants were getting, was €211,000 before this.

"And it's the method by which this has been done, which I suppose is so concerning.

"A leak appeared in one of the newspapers early in January that Robert Watt was going to be installed in the Department of Health.

"And then suddenly an advertisement appeared, of which the Cabinet wasn't informed, that the new secretary-general of the Department of Health was going to get €292,000 - that's a rise of €81,000, which is 40%."

'Alarmed by the public reaction'

Mr Ross said the Government seems to be having second thoughts.

"This was expected to come to Cabinet last week, last Wednesday, but there has been a lot of controversy about it.

"The issue has been raised by Catherine Murphy and John McGuinness at the Finance Committee and at the PAC.

"And it looks like the Government may either be having second thoughts, or is somewhat alarmed by the public reaction to this particular proposal".

He added that he objects to the figures involved and the way it was done - as well as plans for a general pay increase across the public sector.

"I don't think it's reasonable that you get a €40,000 increase at this time when other people are suffering so much.

"This is restoration of what was bloated pay during the crash - public servant pay went up to 300,000 for top secretaries-general, that was acknowledged as being utterly excessive.

"The idea that you should go back to excessive pay seems to be somewhat unworthy, and that you should revise it and look at it".

And Mr Ross said this would see a "knock-on effect" in the public service, with every other secretary-general wanting the same.

"There was no justification for this particular rise, except that we need the brightest and the best.

"Robert Watt's got a lot of talent...but the way this has been done - he was immediately put in as interim secretary-general, the advertisement went in and it was leaked that the job was his for the taking - which must have put off a lot of applicants."

Government 'may be having second thoughts' on Robert's Watt €292k salary - Ross

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Main image: Robert Watt is seen attending Labour Court talks in February 2019. Picture by: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

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Department Of Health Public Sector Robert Watt Salary Salary Increase Shane Ross

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