Government comfortably wins vote on motion of confidence in Tánaiste

Varadkar faced criticism over leak of documents to doctor’s group

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar says "many" claims made against him "were trumped up, or simply made up" as he survived a vote of confidence in the Dáil by 92 votes to 65. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The Dáil has voted confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar by 92 votes to 65.

The vote was called after Sinn Féin proposed a motion of no confidence in Mr Varadkar over his disclosure of a confidential document agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation to a rival GP group last year while he was taoiseach.

 The Government countered with its own motion of confidence in the Tánaiste.

Before the vote,  Government TDs insisted the Tánaiste had acted in good faith when he forwarded a copy of the new GP contract agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation, to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, the president of the rival NAGP, who happened to be a friend.

All Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party TDs in the House supported the Government motion, as did six of the Regional Independents and three Independents.

Sinn Féin, Labour, Social Democrats, Solidarity People Before Profit, Rural Independents and a number of other Independents opposed the motion

The nine Independent TDs who supported the Tánaiste were: Cathal Berry, Seán Canney, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Marian Harkin, Verona Murphy, Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry and Michael McNamara.

The Independents who opposed him were: Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath, Denis Naughten, Carol Nolan, Richard O'Donoghue and Thomas Pringle. Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín also opposed him.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier opened the Dáil debate on the motion of confidence in Mr Varadkar by expressing his support for his coalition partner.

He said the Sinn Féin motion was a “100 per cent cynical move”.

During the debate, Mr Varadkar said that many of the claims made about him “were trumped up or made up”.

He said an article on Monday in Village magazine “was just one example of this.

“It alleged 10 encounters, many of which simply did not happen and could not have happened as I was in Brussels on two occasions, Barcelona on one, out of Dublin on another, or demonstrably doing Government business.

“It claimed four meetings with Minister [for Finance Paschal] Donohoe and Minister [for Health Simon] Harris which also never happened. All easily verified and checked if the truth mattered. But truth didn’t matter and wasn’t the objective.”

In his address to the Dáil, he also re-iterated his apology over the disclosure of a confidential document.

“I am sorry my actions gave rise to tonight’s motion. I accept responsibility for them and accept that responsibility alone. While my motivations were sound, the manner in which I conducted myself was not. I regret it and have learned from it.”

He stated “categorically” that the error in providing a confidential document “notwithstanding my good reasons, was my own”.

He said Dr Ó Tuathail is blameless in this regard.

“He is responsible only of over-stating the nature of his relationship with me and his influence, and for sending some messages that were offensive and inappropriate.”

Embarrassed

He said there were few people “who would not be embarrassed about the content of messages they have sent to friends or co-workers believing them to be private or confidential”.

“Dr Ó Tuathail is a good person, a good doctor, an effective advocate for general practice and for people and patients, especially during the pandemic. I hope that can continue.

“He is someone who is genuinely committed to providing basic healthcare to those who need it the most in his charity work - homeless people, members of the Traveller community, Roma, migrants. I know that will continue.

“Because some people believed he was close to me they treated him as a pawn and then made him collateral damage. This was raw politics at its most cruel.”

He said it was the first time he had faced a motion of confidence in his career. “It forces you to reflect on decisions you have made, and things you could have done differently and will do differently in future.”

But he said Sinn Féin put down a motion of no confidence because “it keeps this story in the public eye for another week”.

Sinn Féin “will defend the indefensible when it involves themselves. But they will not forgive an error of judgement when it involves anyone else.

“The truth is that for them politics is a just game, every flash of outrage, every passionate speech, every tear choked back is a tactical move. Their spokespeople are articulate, confident and totally insincere.”

‘No personal gain’

In his statement opening the debate at the Convention Centre, Mr Martin said the Tánaiste had addressed and dealt with the controversy.

He said what Mr Varadkar had done was inappropriate and “should not have happened”.

But the Tánaiste had acknowledged this and provided political accountability, he said. He stressed that there was “no personal gain” to Mr Varadkar.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, in a staunch defence of his Fine Gael party leader, said they were debating this issue because of Sinn Féin’s attempt to continue to sow division within the Government.

“Leo’s motivation in bringing the NAGP into the fold on a vital GP contract for the State was well-meaning,” he said. “If you were to read the abuse that faceless online trolls and their conspirator backers have drummed up, you would be forgiven for thinking the Tánaiste had acted for personal gain or to sabotage something, instead of landing widespread support for a done deal.”

Sinn Féin’s game

He said it was “obvious” that the debate was not about establishing facts “but about sustaining a political smear campaign masquerading as whistleblowing to inflict maximum political damage.

“What is Sinn Féin’s game here today?” he asked. “Are they using this issue to try sow division in the coalition - during a global pandemic and as Brexit negotiations reach endgame?

“Or is Sinn Féin’s strategy simply to harvest and nurture online hate and bile regardless of the truth and cost; the politics of them versus is; the strategy of division, anger and resentment.

“I’ll let those listening to the benches opposite judge for themselves. I have no hesitation in voting confidence in Leo Varadkar.”

In her contribution to the debate, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that “if a junior civil servant or any departmental official leaked a confidential document, they would be sacked - end of story”.

She said that a motion of no confidence was the only sanction open to the Opposition but the Government responded with “accusations, with name-calling and with spin”.

Insults

But she said no amount of insults or mudslinging would alter the facts that when Mr Varadkar was taoiseach, he “leaked confidential government information to his friend.

“He can offer no credible reason for his actions. His claim that he was acting in the interests of the taxpayer or that the information was in the public domain are threadbare.”

She said it was a “conscious decision by Leo Varadkar to leak inside information to his friend and now the current Taoiseach stands idly by”.

And she claimed that the Taoiseach’s failure to act is a “failure of leadership”.

She said ordinary people were angered because Fine Gael’s actions were par for the course.

They were “part of the insider, cosy club politics that has done so much damage to our country” and it was a “broken politics, one that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want the public to believe has been left behind”.

But it was still there “with favours for friends, connections to friends in high finance and access to power through a simple text message”.

Political stunts

Minister for Social Protection Heatlher Humphreys claimed Sinn Féin is “more interested in cheap political stunts than the very people they claim to represent”.

She said Sinn Féin is the party of “multiple mysterious bank accounts”, a party that “denigrates victims”, a party “that operates under a toxic culture of secrecy, bullying and intimidation and most of all the party of rank hypocrisy”.

She said it pontificiates about a golden circle when it is the richest party in the country.

Ms Humphreys said the party had the gall to accuse the Government of burying records when “victims of the IRA across the country are still buried and their families are still awaiting the truth from Sinn Féin”.

She said the party talked about honesty and integrity but had tens of thousands of pounds of Covid support money that was meant for small businesses lodged into Sinn Féin accounts. “And when you were found out you came up with the Father Ted excuse thaty the money was just resting in your account”.

Populist nationalism

Green Party leader and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said his party welcomed the Tánaiste’s admission that what happened was not right and his apology for his error of judgment. “We accepted that apology from him,” he said.

He said the Government had to do everything through official channels, and “it’s important that we do follow the rules”.

The Labour Party’s education spokesman Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the question was not only should the Dáil have confidence in Mr Varadkar, but “should any trade union have confidence that they can negotiate with this Government in good faith or should any Minister have confidence that they can share a confidential document with the Tánaiste in good faith”.

He said the fact is “they can’t”.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said the debate suited both Fine Gael and Sinn Féin. They want the public to think the politics in Ireland is a choice between Varadkar conservatives and populist nationalism.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said the Tánaiste’s personal and political qualities were the “politics of decency, of progress and of doing the right thing by our country”.

He showed leadership, empathy and decisiveness in dealing with Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said Sinn Féin positioned itself as the only party on the side of ordinary people “but it’s more in bed with big money than any party in this Dáil”.

It is the richest party on the island of Ireland, with many staff and an extensive network of properties across the island, he said.

Mr Donohoe said Sinn Féin’s mode of attack “is the same today as it ever was and ever will be - the single transferable critique of our political system”.

It was a claim that others were acting in the interests of elite and of insiders while Sinn Féin occupies the high moral ground and acts only in the public interest. It was a position of “left populism”.

Sinn Féin, he said, do not appeal to the “better angels” of our nature.

“Instead they seek to arouse the darker spirits to make their case. It is a deeply cynical politics that they have practised for too long.”

Mr Donohoe said a Fine Gael-led government banned corporate donations and this was not the behaviour of a political party that wanted to protect an inner circle.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the motion was about low standards, credibility and trust but most of all about how Government business is done. He claimed Mr Varadkar leaked a document to an individual and organisation that stood to gain organisationally and financially from securing that information.

His claim he did this in the national interest is simply not credible, the Sinn Féin TD said.

Mr Varadkar “broke the rules. He breached the confidentiality of Cabinet and sensitive government contract negotiations, all to give a digout to a friend.”

Cock and bull story

Social Democrats joint leader Róisín Shortall said the Tánaiste’s action in leaking a confidential document was unworthy of his office, and his handling of the incident was unacceptable.

“He was found out and had no choice but to own up. He should have admitted that it was wrong and apologised,” she said. “However, he never admitted it was wrong. Instead, he concocted a false narrative; a cock and bull story which was patently untrue and which clearly misrepresented the truth on a number of counts.”

Minister of State Sean Fleming said that if Sinn Fin was sincere about accountability, it would have a debate on the issue. “Instead they went for the nuclear option of bringing down a Minister and by extension this Government, resulting in a general election in the midst of a Covid-19 pandemic.”

The Fianna Fáil TD said Sinn Féin was “attempting to turn Dáil into a reality TV show of the likes of Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle” but they would not succeed.

Minister for Further Education Simon Harris said he was worried that “we should live in a country where you can’t make a mistake without the off with their head brigade seeking political execution”.

He said the “parties that apply such harsh judgments to others refuse to apply it to themselves”.

Trumpism

Mr Harris said Mr Varadkar is a “committed, energetic, smart, sincere” leader.

“We would not have a new GP agreement were it not for his leadership,” he said, adding that everybody makes mistakes and the smears and innuendoes that are creeping into political life need to stop.

He told Sinn Féin not to “dare to introduce” Trumpism into Ireland.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith claimed Fianna Fáil and the Green Party were backing Mr Varadkar and Fine Gael “out of self preservation”.

She said normal people would be struck “by the way Leo Varadkar gets way with it again. And when they think of Leo Varadkar they think of welfare cheats cheat us all.

“They’ll think of attacks on Nphet (National Public Health Emergency Team) and they’ll think of this disgraceful excuse of their Taoiseach lying to everybody and getting away with it again,” she said.