The Taoiseach has said that he was unaware that Trinity College Dublin (TCD) was offered a €2m ringfenced funding arrangement as part of the secondment of outgoing chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.
A letter of intent from Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt to the provost of TCD, Professor Linda Doyle, sent on March 16, some nine days before Dr Holohan’s departure was announced, shows that Mr Watt offered the college a ringfenced funding agreement for the establishment of the professor of public health role.
Mr Watt’s letter states that the €2m yearly would come from the Health Research Board, a body under the Department of Health. Dr Holohan said at the weekend that he will not proceed with the move, which had on Friday been paused by the Taoiseach.
It stated that the department commits to ensuring that Dr Holohan would “continue to receive a salary at his existing level” through funding provided by the department.
“Make an annual ringfenced allocation of €2m for the duration of the secondment, to be administered through the Health Research Board, a body under the aegis of the Department of Health, to support the development and activities of an interinstitutional collaboration led by Dr Holohan from his position in Trinity College Dublin,” it read.
Mr Watt also presses home the need for confidentiality between the two organizations until the announcement is made official.
The letter includes a draft press release on the appointment, but this does not say that the move will be a secondment paid for by the Department of Health. Mr Watt defended his actions in a memo to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly earlier this week, saying that he was “satisfied that this policy approach and process were appropriate in the circumstances”.
Speaking in Galway, however, the Taoiseach said that he was not aware of the arrangement before it was announced.
“No, I was not aware of that in advance of the issue pertaining to the research proposal around the secondment mentoring of the chief medical officer to Trinity or how it would be funded,” said Mr. Martin.
“The research proposal itself in terms of building up capacity around pandemic preparedness has merit, given what we’ve all been through and we will in all likelihood have future pandemics, but again, an external review will now take place to learn lessons from this .
I think people acted with good intentions, but clearly, from a communications perspective and other issues, there are clearly lessons to be learned from all of this.
“An external view will now take place to really lay out those lessons.”