Cowen says Varadkar ‘mistake’ over contract was with ‘good intentions’

Sinn Féin claims the Tánaiste is hiding behind ‘lame excuses’ over controversy

Former minister and Fianna Fail TD  Barry Cowen said Leo Varadkar appeared to have made an ‘an inadvertent mistake he should learn from and move on’.

Former minister and Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen said Leo Varadkar appeared to have made an ‘an inadvertent mistake he should learn from and move on’.

 

Former minister for agriculture Barry Cowen has said Leo Varadkar is “entitled to make a mistake” and does not believe “a grave should be prepared” for the Tánaiste as a result of the contract controversy.

Mr Varadkar shared confidential information with a rival body during Government negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in April 2019, it emerged following a report in Village Magazine.

Mr Cowen, who was sacked as Minister for Agriculture over the summer following controversy emanating from a historic drink-driving incident, said that in sharing details of a draft €210 million deal with family doctors with a rival GP group, Mr Varadkar had made a mistake “with good intentions, if that’s possible”.

“I wouldn’t dance on his grave,” he said, “I don’t believe a grave should be prepared on that in this instance.”

Mr Cowen’s intervention will be seen as significant as he was removed from office after a political controversy earlier this year.

Political sources had speculated Mr Cowen’s attitude to the controversy would be an important bellwether for how the wider Fianna Fáil party would react.

“It would appear it was a mistake with good intentions if that’s possible, in that you can imagine the anxiousness to get that process (the GP contract) to bed,” Mr Cowen said.

“It’s an inadvertent mistake he should learn from and move on, there’s more important issues facing the country right now.”

Closed ranks

His comments come as Ministers closed ranks on Sunday around the Tánaiste. Speaking to RTÉ radio, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the draft deal was shared by the Tánaiste “after agreement had been reached on that particular new GP (General Practitioners) contract.”

What we were looking to do was get agreement from GPs to its implementation,” he said. “It was after a press conference had been done on the agreement.

It was after the government had agreed to the new agreement and the details that we were referring to were being broadly circulated and indeed broadly reported on,” he Mr Donohoe said.

Mr Varadkar has rejected allegations in Village magazine which claimed he acted unlawfully in providing a copy of the draft pay deal agreement with the IMO to the rival National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) representative group for doctors.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme on Sunday Mr Donohoe said the Tánaiste had acknowledged “the way that information was shared was not best practice. He’s also made very clear that he will go into the Dáil to answer questions in relation to this.”

Questions posed by other party leaders in Government “of course will be answered,” the Minister said.

“I’ve been involved in countless negotiations on his behalf and on behalf of the Government and at all times he and he has been guided by doing the right thing by the exchequer and, in this case, by patients and GPs,” Mr Donohoe said.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said the Taoiseach has made clear that “this was not best practice.”

Mr Varadkar “has also acknowledged the need to come before the Dáil next week to make a statement and indeed, more importantly, perhaps also too to answer questions. I think that’s the right forum, he’s answerable to the Dáil,” she said.

The Tánaiste “needs to give a very frank and, in fairness, I acknowledged he has already made a detailed statement, she added.

‘Hiding’

Sinn Féin Health spokesman David Cullinane rejected Mr Varadkar’s view that the document was not confidential when circulated.

“That’s at odds with the Dáil record.

“First of all, as leader of Fine Gael, Leo confirmed that he leaked the document. The document was not public and that’s at odds with the Dáil record.

“We had any amount of Opposition health spokespeople from Louise O’Reilly from Sinn Féin to the current Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly say quite clearly that the document was not public, it was not published, and in fact it was not published until the 17th of May and I don’t think that it is acceptable that the Tánaiste is hiding behind lame excuses.”

He “passed on a document to a friend” which “was marked confidential. He wrote himself in his own handwriting on the front of the document `subject to change’,” Mr Cullinane said.

“All of this smacks of insiders again, of Fine Gael looking after friends, of Leo looking after friends, doing favours as opposed to doing what’s right and I think he has to come clean, he has to acknowledge and accept this was inappropriate,” he said.

Mr Cullinane also criticised comments by Mr Donohoe in defence of the Tánaiste. “He (Mr Donohoe) hasn’t said this was wrong.

“He hasn’t said this was unacceptable. He hasn’t said this was inappropriate and by the way this was about a very,very sensitive negotiation that involved huge amounts of taxpayers money.

“I think people looking in are sick and tired of politics when its about insiders, is about who you know, favours for friends. It’s about how Fine Gael does business and how Leo as leader of Fine Gael does business,” he said.

He asked “how many more times was an inappropriate channel used by the Tánaiste when he was Taoiseach and indeed now as Tánaiste?”