Garda inquiry into Varadkar GP contract leak upgraded to formal investigation

Minister rejects suggestion that Tánaiste should step aside pending completion of inquiry

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar  apologised for his actions but said he had circulated the contract to encourage NAGP members to agree to it. Photograph:  Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar apologised for his actions but said he had circulated the contract to encourage NAGP members to agree to it. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

A preliminary Garda inquiry into the leaking of a confidential document by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has been upgraded to a formal investigation.

The investigation relates to allegations that, Mr Varadkar, who was then taoiseach, improperly leaked a confidential copy of a proposed new General Practitioner (GP) contract to a friend, Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail in April 2019

The contract contained details of the deal the government had provisionally agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation. At the time, Dr Ó Tuathail was president of the National Association of GPs, a rival organisation representing GPs that is now defunct.

Detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, had been conducting “preliminary inquiries” into whether an offence may have been committed under the Official Secrets Act.

It is understood the status of the inquiry has now advanced to a formal Garda investigation.

A Garda spokesman said “An Garda Síochána does not comment on any ongoing investigations.”

Previous statements from Garda Headquarters had said it had received correspondence on the issue, which was being assessed to determine if any Garda action was required.

On Sunday, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said “absolutely not” when asked if Mr Varadkar should step aside from Cabinet without prejudice pending completion of the inquiry.

“The Tánaiste has made his position very clear in the Dáil last November, she told RTÉ’s Week in Politics. “He has said it was an error of judgment, but we must remember very clearly here that what he did was in the interest of GPs, in the interest of the patient, and in the interest of the general public.”

She added: “He had nothing to gain from sharing that document, only to try and get a resolution to a long standing issue over GP contracts, and I think it’s important that we allow the gardai to continue their investigations.

“The Tánaiste has made it very clear that he’s willing to meet and talk to them at any stage.”

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

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said Fianna Fáil had full confidence in the Tánaiste.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, he said he does not believe Mr Varadkar should stand aside, adding that he is entitled to due process. “The gardaí should be given the time and space to work through this investigation in the normal way.”

Sinn Fein public expenditure and reform spokeswoman Mairéad Farrell said on The Week on Politics that her party had introduced the motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste, which the Government parties voted down in November.

“It is absolutely wrong and very, very clear that that type of culture has no place in our society,” she said.

Details around the leaking of the GP pay deal contract had first been reported by the Village Magazine in October 2020.

Detectives have already spoken to Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris about the matter, as he was minister for health at the time. Interviews have also been conducted with staff in the Department of Health.

Mr Varadkar has said he has offered to meet with investigating gardaí to respond to any questions on the matter.

The Official Secrets Act makes it an offence for persons who hold public office to leak documents of a sensitive nature. Mr Varadkar previously said under the definition of the act this did not include TDs and Senators.

Dr Ó Tuathail said he had not been interviewed by gardaí yet in relation to the investigation. “I haven’t been contacted by the gardaí, but if they do contact me, it goes without saying that I will cooperate fully with them,” he said.