Relieved Varadkar still damaged by leak affair

Analysis: DPP decision clears way for Fine Gael leader to become taoiseach

The news that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will not face charges over the leaking a Government document to a friend does not come as a great surprise. But it will be a mighty relief to Fine Gael, all the same.

Few people who examined the accounts of the then taoiseach’s leaking of the draft of a proposed new contract for GPs agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation in 2019 to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, then the head of a rival doctors’ group, thought it violated the terms of the anti-corruption legislation under which he was investigated.

But there has been, for many months now, an undercurrent of deep unease in Fine Gael which intensified every time a party Minister was questioned about the issue in the national media or when Sinn Féin TDs jibed the Government about it in the Dáil. We know he probably will not be charged, the worried Fine Gaelers would say. But what if he is?

The answer was Varadkar would have been compelled to resign as party leader and from the Government. His career would almost certainly have been over, and Fine Gael would have been pitched into a leadership campaign against a catastrophic background.


The Taoiseach would have to explain why he chose to continue in Government with Varadkar, something which would threaten him, and the Coalition. If it survived that long, the reverberations of any trial, when it came, would have threatened the continuation of the administration.

All that has now faded into the mists of what might have been. Varadkar can look forward to becoming taoiseach on December 15th, securing a second chance at success in government that is enjoyed by very few politicians.

We can expect him to begin charting out what that will look like shortly; by the time the autumn comes, the impending switchover in Government will command a lot of political time and attention. That process will not now be overshadowed by uncertainty.

It is likely that the intense social media campaign directed at Varadkar since the news of the leak broke in Village magazine in 2020 will continue, in some quarters at least. But it will fade from political importance; Irish people might not have a high degree of trust in politicians, but surveys show they do trust the criminal justice system.

For all the relief that he must feel personally following the news, the affair has damaged Varadkar both inside and outside his party. It has been protracted, embarrassing and diminishing.

One consequence of the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision is that Varadkar will lead his party into the next general election; a consequence of the entire leak affair is that if he doesn’t win it, his time as leader will be over.