Greens call for Varadkar to give detailed Dáil account of contract controversy

Tánaiste rejects article allegations that he acted unlawfully in sharing draft GP contract

The Green Party has  called on the Tánaiste to give a full and detailed account to the Dáil on the controversy and to   allow  time for questioning. Photograph: Getty

The Green Party has called on the Tánaiste to give a full and detailed account to the Dáil on the controversy and to allow time for questioning. Photograph: Getty

 

The Green Party has called on the Tánaiste to give a full and detailed account to the Dáil about his “passing on of sensitive information” about a proposed new government contract for GPs to a rival organisation.

In a statement on Saturday afternoon Mr Varadkar rejected allegations published in Village magazine that claimed he had acted unlawfully in providing a copy of a draft pay deal agreement with the IMO to the rival National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) representative group for doctors.

Following Mr Varadkar’s statement the Green Party said: “It is clear from what has been revealed that the passing on of sensitive information in this manner was not appropriate.

“The timelines and the full impact of the disclosure on all involved needs further scrutiny.

“The Green Party is calling on the Tánaiste to give a full and detailed account to the Dáil on the issue and to allow sufficient time for the statement followed by questioning.”

It is understood Mr Varadkar will make himself available for questions on the issue in the Dáil early this week.

A Government source said the Taoiseach - who spoke to the Tánaiste yesterday about the controversy - is of the view that the passing on of the draft contract for GPs was not best practice and not appropriate.

Opposition parties have also called for more clarity from Mr Varadkar on the issue.

Government backbencher Jim O’Callaghan, the Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Bay South, said on Twitter that the Village article was a “serious and specific allegation… about the disclosure of a confidential government document. The Tánaiste should make a statement responding to the allegation and clarifying the situation.”

In his statement Mr Varadkar acknowledged he had passed information via an “informal communication channel” to the NAGP and admitted it was “not best practice”, but insisted there was nothing unlawful about his actions because the information was already in public domain.

The Social Democrats said they “view with extreme concern allegations made in the current edition of the Village magazine concerning the Tánaiste.”

However, in his statement, Mr Varadkar described the article as “inaccurate and grossly defamatory.” Mr Varadkar said he has sought legal advice on the contents of the article.

In his statement Mr Varadkar said he provided a copy of the agreement to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, president of the NAGP, between 11th and 16th April 2019 because he “hoped to use Dr Ó Tuathail’s influence to encourage all GPs to accept it including those represented by NAGP.”

“In this regard, the government had publicly committed to keep the NAGP informed as to the progress of negotiations on the Agreement.

“It is important to emphasise that by that point, the agreement had been agreed and its content had been publicly announced previously.”

Mr Varadkar said he accepted that the “provision of the agreement by an informal communication channel to the president of the NAGP was not best practice and he regrets that he did not ensure that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner.

“There was however, nothing in any way unlawful about the provision of the Agreement to the President of the NAGP.”

The Tánaiste’s statement adds that “by April 6th, 2019, the substance of the agreement had been extensively press released and was already in the public domain, and it was available to the IMO who had negotiated it.”

The deal, ultimately worth more than €200 million, was the result of months of negotiations and rolled back recession-era cuts to GP funding.

When finalised in May 2019, the terms were offered by the HSE to all GPs operating the medical card scheme irrespective of which organisation to which they belonged.

On Saturday, when contacted for comment by The Irish Times, Mr O Tuathail said he had no comment, and he had not read the article.

The backdrop to the controversy was a process under which the Government would reverse the cuts imposed on general practice during the austerity years and see family doctors taking on more services.