The Garda investigation into the leaking of a confidential report by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to his friend Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail is taking in a larger number of witness interviews than initially envisaged and now looks set to continue for several months.
The Irish Times understands the criminal investigation may continue through the summer and possibly into the autumn such is the volume of witnesses that detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) plan to interview.
Mr Varadkar leaked a confidential copy of a proposed new GP contract to his friend Dr Ó Tuathail in April 2019. The contract contained details of the deal the government had provisionally agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).
Dr Ó Tuathail was president of the National Association of GPs (NAGP), a rival organisation representing GPs that is now defunct.
While Mr Varadkar was interviewed last month under caution he was not arrested. There was an expectation within Government and the wider political sphere that his interview signaled the investigation was nearing completion, but this does not now appear to be the case.
In reply to queries Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin, said: “This matter remains under investigation. The investigation file is not yet completed. An Garda Síochána does not provide specific ongoing comment on ongoing investigations.”
Mr Varadkar’s mobile phone was surrendered to the Garda and has been reviewed, as well as mobile phones owned by other people whose actions were also being examined by the NBCI, the Garda’s serious crimes squad.
The mobile phone activity of Mr Varadkar and Dr Ó Tuathail, and others, has been examined and now some of the people they were in contact with must be spoken to by the detectives on the case.
However, sources said widening the number of interviews arose as gardaí were determined to do a comprehensive inquiry. It did not mean any change in the core allegations or reflect any increased likelihood of charges.
Mr Varadkar was at the centre of the investigation from the outset, and remains at the centre of the inquiry. However, it is also possible other people would face charges if any suspected criminal activity came to light relating to the leak or its aftermath.
Sources said it was not possible to determine exactly when the investigation would end and a file would be submitted to the DPP, for a decision on whether Mr Varadkar or anyone else would face charges.
However, sources said the inquiry may continue deep into the summer and even into autumn. The news that the Garda investigation into the affair may continue for some months to come will come as a blow to Mr Varadkar.
It confounds the expectation in political circles – in both Government and opposition – that the affair would conclude in the near future with no charges being brought against the Tánaiste.
Although there are few, if any, around Government who believe that Mr Varadkar has committed any crime – or will be charged with one – some Fine Gael sources confess that the affair has embarrassed the party and diminished Mr Varadkar’s standing as leader.
In a Dáil debate last year when the controversy first arose, Mr Varadkar admitted he had made a mistake and apologised for his actions. However, he has always insisted that he did not break the law.
The Dáil subsequently voted confidence in him, though the affair has continued to fester as news of the Garda investigation leaked out this year. The main issue at the centre of the investigation is whether the leak, which Mr Varadkar has admitted took place, was a crime.
Mr Varadkar apologised for his actions in the Dáil after the leak was first disclosed by Village magazine last year. He insisted he had not broken the law, and defended his actions by saying he had circulated the contract to encourage NAGP members to agree to it.