Leo Varadkar, doctor and Ministers all dispute account of meetings in Village magazine

Tánaiste claims magazine has got ‘its facts wrong’

Three senior Ministers and the doctor at the centre of the GP pay deal leak controversy have disputed an account of meetings they allegedly were involved in last year, published by Village magazine on Monday.

The magazine published a statement on its website, featuring text messages purportedly from Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, which suggested he had two meetings over lunch and dinner in June and September of last year with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.

Separate screengrabs, which the magazine also claimed came from Dr Ó Tuathail, alleged a meeting between him, Mr Varadkar and then minister for health Simon Harris after a rugby match in February of last year.

Village magazine’s statement claimed it had evidence of up to 10 meetings between Dr Ó Tuathail and then taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

However, on Monday, parties to the alleged meetings disputed much of the statement.

In a brief statement on Monday, the Department of Finance said that: "Minister Donohoe can confirm neither of these alleged meetings took place". A spokeswoman for Mr Harris said: "the meeting did not take place".

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said: “Many of these encounters simply did not happen. The magazine has its facts wrong again. We are not going to make any further comment”.

Extensive statement

In an extensive statement on Monday evening, Dr Ó Tuathail did not deny sending the texts, but said: “I don’t have access to any of these text messages that have allegedly been sent me as they date from a period in 2019 when I was president of the NAGP.”

He said he could “categorically state” that the Tánaiste was not at one of the meetings Village claimed he had attended, in a Dublin pub last summer. He said he has only met Mr Donohoe once, at a charity event in June 2019, and that he has never had dinner with the Minister.

He said that he met Mr Harris, who was minister for health at the time, several times in his capacity as NAGP president, “but I would defer to the Minister as to when and where that was, as I no longer have records of these.”

He said he met the taoiseach several times in 2019 “in a personal capacity. I have not kept a record of these, and would again defer to him to establish when and where.” He said he met the Tánaiste “a total of three times” in 2020, “as [Leo Varadkar] has previously stated”.

“I had no knowledge of the publication of these texts which have allegedly been sent by me. What is stated above is factually accurate,” he said.

The article claims that evidence of seven of the meetings is provided by text messages sent by Dr Ó Tuathail suggesting they took place. There are no messages from Mr Varadkar to corroborate these suggestions.

Supported by a photograph

Another meeting, the magazine says, was referred to last week by Mr Varadkar in the Dáil, while another is supported by a photograph taken of the two at a festival in June 2019.

A final meeting, the magazine claimed was supported by corroboration from a son of healthcare entrepreneur and corporate troubleshooter Chay Bowes. This final meeting is the one Dr Ó Tuathail says Mr Varadkar "categorically" did not attend.

The messages and alleged meetings all relate to 2019. In the Dáil last week Mr Varadkar said that Dr Ó Tuathail is the “kind of friend I would meet two or three times a year, probably at a drinks reception, or through overlapping social circles”.

In a previous text message released last week, Dr Ó Tuathail claimed he had met Mr Harris for lunch. Mr Harris later told the Dáil that this meeting did not take place.

Michael Smith, the editor of Village magazine, said the magazine's statement "speaks for itself". He did not clarify whether any of the three Ministers referred to in the statement had been contacted for comment prior to publication.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times