Tánaiste offers to speak to gardaí over GP contract leak

Stephen Donnelly says he was unaware gardaí were assessing complaint over leak

 Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has offered to  meet gardaí to ‘answer any questions they may have, and provide a full statement on the matter’. Photograph: Maxwells/PA Wire

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has offered to meet gardaí to ‘answer any questions they may have, and provide a full statement on the matter’. Photograph: Maxwells/PA Wire

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has offered to meet gardaí to assist them with their preliminary inquiries into the leaking of a confidential document.

In a statement this evening, Mr Varadkar said: “I am aware that a complaint was made against me last November. This was widely reported at the time.

“The gardaí have to do their job and investigate that complaint. I would expect nothing else. They have not been in contact with me about the matter, but I have, through my solicitors, made contact with them and I have offered to meet with them, answer any questions they may have, and provide a full statement on the matter.”

“The facts are no different to those set out by me in the Dáil last November. My legal advice is that I have committed no offence. I look forward to the matter being concluded. Given the circumstances, I won’t be making any further comment.”

Detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI), under the direction of Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, are conducting what sources have described as “preliminary inquiries” into whether an offence may have been committed under the Official Secrets Act.

The inquiries focus on allegations that in April 2019, Mr Varadkar, who was then taoiseach, improperly leaked a confidential copy of the proposed contract to his associate Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.

The contract contained details of the deal the government had provisionally agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO). At the time, Mr Ó Tuathail was president of the now-defunct National Association of GPs (NAGP), a rival organisation.

Apologised

Mr Varadkar subsequently apologised for his actions in the Dáil but said he had not broken the law. He said he had circulated the contract to encourage NAGP members to agree to it.

“There was nothing selfish, corrupt, dishonest or illegal in what I did,” he said.

Detectives have already spoken to Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris about the matter and have taken a written statement from him. Mr Harris was the minister for health at the time. They are also conducting ongoing interviews with staff in the Department of Health.

Garda sources stressed a full criminal investigation has not been opened into Mr Varadkar’s action.

Rather, detectives are assessing the information available to them before deciding whether a criminal investigation, complete with additional resources and powers, should be opened into the matter.

The official Garda statement has not changed since it emerged the Garda received a criminal complaint about the matter last year.

“An Garda Síochána has received correspondence which is being assessed to determine what if any Garda action is required. An Garda Síochána has no further comment at this time,” it said on Sunday.

It is understood Mr Harris spoke to detectives on January 21st. He voluntarily made a written statement and did not attend a Garda station. There is no suggestion Mr Harris has committed an offence.

A spokeswoman for the minister told The Irish Times: “The Minister cannot comment on an ongoing Garda investigation.”

An informed source said the preliminary assessment of the criminal complaint will involve speaking to Mr Varadkar in a similar fashion, likely in the next few weeks.

Mr Varadkar will not be interviewed under caution and will not have to attend at a station, they said.

Standard practice

“This is quite standard practice at this stage of an investigation,” the source said, adding that no determination has been made as to whether an offence has been committed.

On Sunday Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he was unaware that gardaí were assessing a complaint about the leaking of the GP contract, and said “the first I heard about it was it being reported through the media”.

Mr Donnelly had not been contacted by gardaí, he said, adding that “it happened quite some time before I came into the role”.

The Irish Mirror reported on Saturday that the complaint was made by somebody in the Department of Health, but the Minister told RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme on Sunday he was unaware of this and said nobody had approached him on the matter.

“A complaint has been made to the guards. They’re looking at it and we need to let them get on with their inquiry.”

A criminal complaint was initially made to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, which forwarded it to Assistant Commissioner O’Driscoll for assessment of whether any crime had been committed.

This assessment is ongoing, sources say.

The Official Secrets Act makes it an offence for “a public official” to leak documents of a sensitive nature. Mr Varadkar previously said public officials do not include TDs and Senators under the act.