Robert Watt intervened to end government sponsorship of Operation Transformation saying he would sign off on one final year with a “heavy heart”

The country’s most controversial civil servant personally intervened to end his department’s sponsorship of the hit RTÉ show Operation Transformation.

The Department of Health had been paying around €283,000 per year to sponsor the programme through its Healthy Ireland initiative but that arrangement was brought to an abrupt end last year.

Internal records detail how Secretary General Robert Watt had “severe reservations” about sponsoring the programme in 2022.

Mr Watt only signed off on the deal with a “heavy heart” but said it should not continue beyond that, according to records that were released under FOI.

An email from October last year said: “The Secretary General had severe reservations about sponsoring it in 2022, but approved it after some engagement from your predecessor.”

Mr Watt’s involvement in the sponsorship deal began in late 2021 when he sought additional information from colleagues on the background and rationale for it.

The Secretary General – who himself earns €292,000 annually and more than the Operation Transformation sponsorship was worth each year – was provided with an overview by a senior civil servant.

“As discussed, supplementary e-submission for review and approval please,” it said.

Mr Watt signed off on it saying: “Approved – with a heavy heart!! But we need to review next year. Thank you. Robert.”

An email later sent by the Secretary General from December 2021 reiterated his point: “This is the last year!”

His colleague, a principal officer in the department, responded: “Thanks for this, noted re: the heavy heart!

“I am more than happy for a full review and consideration next year to evaluate appropriateness of any future involvement and long before any discussion with program producers.”