GP contract apology: Varadkar distances himself from friend over leak

Fianna Fáil, Green Party sources say they believe crisis for Tánaiste and Government will pass

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has apologised in the Dáil for his error of judgment in releasing a confidential document agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation to a rival GP group last year.

Acknowledging errors and apologising for them, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar survived a Dáil grilling by opposition TDs last night over his leak of a new GPs’ contract in 2019.

Mr Varadkar was put under pressure at times during a two-hour question-and-answer session as opposition parties questioned him about passing the document to his friend Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.

Dr Ó Tuathail was then head of a GP group set up to rival the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), with which the then government had negotiated the new contract.

Mr Varadkar repeatedly sought to distance himself from Dr Ó Tuathail during the course of the Dáil session. He said that he was “a friend not a close friend” and that he had sent Dr Ó Tuathail the contract because of his position with the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), not because he was a friend.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar speaks in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon. Screengrab: Oireachtas TV

He said that “sometimes people like to exaggerate the nature of their relationships, to inflate their own influence, or to claim to speak for a person when they do not”.

Political criticism

Mr Varadkar apologised for the leak of the document, saying he had made mistakes and “I have tried to learn from them”.

Senior Fianna Fáil and Green Party sources said on Tuesday night they believed the crisis for Mr Varadkar – and by extension for the Government – would now pass, though Fianna Fáil TDs Jim O’Callaghan and Marc MacSharry were both critical of the Tánaiste.

Speaking to The Irish Times after the Dáil session, Mr O’Callaghan said Mr Varadkar still needed to state that sending the document was “wrong”.

“He should then move on with the rest of the Government to governing the country during this difficult time for our people.”

The Greens issued a statement welcoming Mr Varadkar’s “acknowledgment that what happened was not right and his apology for this error of judgment”.

“The disclosure of information in this way was not correct and should not be repeated,” the party said.

But Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Varadkar’s “defence has fallen apart this evening".

‘This scandal’

“Each and every alibi advanced by Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael ministers has been exposed as spin. All correspondence, documents, files and notes relating to this scandal must now be made public,” she said in a tweet.

Many deputies referred to new details of messages from Dr Ó Tuathail which emerged on Tuesday evening, showing that he also made an unsuccessful effort to secure the document from then minister for health Simon Harris in the days before he was sent it by Mr Varadkar. Dr Ó Tuathail also suggested in a message that Mr Harris was meeting him for lunch around that time, which Mr Harris denied on the floor of the Dáil.

The Irish Times contacted Dr Ó Tuathail for comment on Tuesday but received no reply.

The Standards in Public Office Commission said it had received two complaints about the leak. This includes one from Rise TD Paul Murphy.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times