January 26, 2022
Government must learn lessons to avoid future confusion, secrecy and bad practice around secretary general pay and appointments – Mairéad Farrell TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform Mairéad Farrell TD has said that the government must learn lessons from the debacle of the €81,000 salary increase given to Department of Health General Secretary Robert Watt.

Her comments come following confirmation from Mr Watt that he is no longer waiving the pay increase, which therefore brings his salary to just shy of €300,000.

Yesterday, both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste said that this was a private matter in stark contrast to the views of the public, the opposition and even other government ministers. 

The funds for these salaries are provided by the taxpayer, and as such transparency around salaries of such significance is of vital public importance. 

Teachta Farrell said:

“The Taoiseach told the Dáil yesterday that he is concerned about a wage price spiral, and today Minister Seán Fleming made a similar argument. 

“But, remarkably, they do not seem to share the concerns of a wage price spiral emerging from staggering salary increases of €81,000 for secretary generals. 

“It seems likely to me that there is a real risk of a knock-on effect of similar claims being lodged by other secretary generals; a ‘keeping up with the Joneses effect’. 

“The impact that this could have on the public service wage bill is significant. Today Minister Heather Humphreys said that it is important that we have transparency in the public sector, adding that her wages were there for all to see..

“She is quite right about this. So how the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste both share the view that this is a ‘private matter’ is beyond me.

“Mr Watt, as the former Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and as someone who always kept a strong focus on managing the public finances and keeping the public sector pay bill down, should be acutely aware of the risk that such massive salary increases pose. 

“The joint report of the Finance Committee and Public Accounts Committee showed the highly deficient way that this salary increase was arrived at. 

“The decision lacked transparency, and was made without any evidence of benchmarking or a methodical approach having been used. We cannot allow this kind of opacity to continue.

“Mr Watt had refused to answer questions about this when he recently appeared before the PAC. One of the key roles of Oireachtas committees is scrutiny of the Civil Service. 

“If the committees cannot be permitted to carry out this role, then something has gone very wrong at the heart of our democratic system. 

“In the interests of transparency and accountability, we now need to hear from Minister Michael McGrath who has had the report of the Finance Committee and PAC on the Processes etc to the Appointment of Senior Executives since November. 

“Tuesday marks the first of February, so he now needs to appear before the Finance Committee and update us on his progress on the recommendations of the report.”

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