The top civil servant at the Department of Health will tell an Oireachtas committee that he regrets that Dr Tony Holohan's "knowledge and skills" will not be available to the public service now that the proposed secondment of the Chief Medical Officer to Trinity College Dublin has been abandoned.
Robert Watt, the Secretary General at the Department of Health, will appear before the Joint Committee on Health tomorrow.
The committee is examining the now-abandoned appointment of Dr Holohan to the role of professor of public health strategy and leadership at TCD.
"It is a matter of regret to me that, what I viewed as an important and innovative proposal for increasing our public health capacity in Ireland, is not now going ahead," Mr Watt will say in his opening statement.
Mr Watt will point to the CMO's "long and distinguished service, and the crucial knowledge and ability he brought to bear in the pandemic".
Last month it emerged that the secondment would have seen Dr Holohan continue to receive his €187,000 public service salary, while being allowed to perform private work, and continue as an employee of the Department of Health.
An annual budget of €2 million was proposed, potentially costing €20 million in total, by the time Dr Holohan reaches retirement in about a decade.
After controversy erupted around the creation of the post, Dr Holohan announced that he would not be proceeding with the proposed secondment.
He will retire as CMO in July, and leave the public service.
An external report into the secondment, which has been ordered by the Taoiseach Micheál Martin, is expected to be completed next month.
Mr Watt will frame the secondment as arising from work at the department "to find new and innovative ways to refocus and strengthen public health capacity", including "leadership capacity... to strengthen and prepare in the event of future pandemics."
While "the response to the pandemic in Ireland was among the best in the world", this capacity building is needed in light of "over 7,000 deaths from COVID" and a cost to the Exchequer of around €40 billion.
"It was clear to me that this proposal was in line with the Government's commitment to investing in public health, as outlined in the Programme for Government," he will say.
Mr Watt will also point to the recent endorsement of "particular secondment arrangements to the university sector for senior civil servants".
"I believe that this important work would have benefited greatly by being led by Dr Holohan," Mr Watt will tell the committee.
"I believed when we conceived this proposal that it was essential that we continued to harness Dr Holohan's knowledge and skills in the public interest and I regret that this will no longer be possible," his opening statement reads.
Mr Watt noted that he "had initial discussions with the CMO in August 2021 regarding his future plans, as did the Secretary to the Government", Martin Fraser, the then-secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach, who has since been appointed Ambassador to the UK.
However, a rise in COVID cases meant that "these discussions were necessarily paused until earlier this year", when "the CMO raised" the matter "with some third level institutions".
"[The] proposal for a Professorship emerged", Mr Watt will say, adding that it would have seen Dr Holohan "lead the development and activities of collaboration between all universities and the health sector and to develop stronger links with the WHO [World Health Organisation] and agencies of the EU."
When the Department of Health "issued a letter of intent to Trinity College on 16 March", it did not address "the funding of Dr Holohan’s post", which "was something that needed to be worked out".
"It was envisaged that this would involve competitive funding organised appropriately", and which "could be administered by the Health Research Board," he will say.
However, in a statement last month the HRB said that it had not been made aware of any such funding arrangement, or proposal.