Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has pledged that action will be taken if irregularities in relation to pay and pension top-ups in HSE funded bodies are uncovered in an ongoing HSE review.

The minister made the pledge in response to SIPTU, which had queried how €1.64 million in such top-ups had been paid out to senior managers in the St John of God agency.

St John of God had argued that its CEO John Pepper, who earns €182,000 a year, left the public service at the end of 2013 and was thus no longer subject to restrictions and austerity measures enforced under financial emergency legislation known as FEMPI.

However, it was also revealed that the €125,000 a year salary of senior manager Claire Dempsey also breaches public pay guidelines.

SIPTU had sought clarification as to how these payments in breach of public pay policy arose, and how people were exempted from the strictures of FEMPI, when the lowest paid Government employees had suffered what he called "draconian" cuts in pay.

In his response to SIPTU Health Division organiser Paul Bell, Mr Donohoe said he takes very seriously reports that additional payments were made to certain public servants that were not revealed as part of a major HSE compliance exercise in 2013/2014.

He said the broad principles underpinning the actions of various Governments to bring the public service pay bill under control in the last few years were that all public servants were included, and that the reductions applied were progressive and based on ability to pay.

He stated that this meant that in a cohesive way, the public service as a whole met the challenge of managing the economic downturn, but that lower paid public servants who could afford the least had the smallest reductions.

The minister said that those broad principles underpin and strengthen the FEMPI legislation itself.

He went on to state that another key protection was that the possibility of being granted necessary exemptions from the legislation were deliberately kept very limited by the Oireachtas - as it was considered that any process that would allow for widespread exemptions would undermine those fundamental underpinnings.

Minister Donohoe reiterated that he had neither received nor approved any requests for exemption from the application of the FEMPI legislation to senior managers in Section 38 bodies, including the St John of God organisation.

The minister said he has been advised that the HSE Internal Auditor is to review the payment of additional remuneration to senior managers in St John of God.

He said that when that review is complete, it will be a matter for the HSE as the grant-aiding body to determine what further action should be taken on foot of that investigative process.

He added that if matters covered by the FEMPI Acts arise, action may be taken under that legislation.

He concluded by saying that his officials will be briefed on the outcome of the HSE audit - and the appropriate measures which may then be initiated in respect of the audit process.