McDonald criticises Taoiseach for ‘arrogant’ response to her letter about Varadkar

Tánaiste says he is keen to have Garda investigation into leak concluded

Taoiseach Micheál Martin the Green Party have both said they have confidence in Leo  Varadkar. Photograph: Collins

Taoiseach Micheál Martin the Green Party have both said they have confidence in Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Collins

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticised Taoiseach Micheál Martin for his “high-handed and arrogant” response to her letter requesting for a meeting on the Garda investigation into Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s leaking of a confidential document.

Mr Martin said he had no intention of responding to Ms McDonald’s letter which was sent on Monday night, saying most of the letters she sent were “purely political” and tactical.

Speaking on Tuesday, Ms McDonald said it was her responsibility as leader of the Opposition to do so. She said she had written to the Taoiseach on 12 occasions on important matters of State and he had replied on only 50 per cent of occasions. She said the quality of the replies had ranged from relatively good to terrible.

Speaking at Leinster House she said the subject matters had included vaccine rollout; carers; people with disabilities; special education, Brexit and the Northern Irish protocols.

“(Mr Martin) would need to clarify which of these issues is a waste of his time, as he sees it,” she said.

“It is an extraordinary thing that this Government thinks it’s okay to leak confidential and sensitive documents to your friends but there is a problem responding to correspondence from the opposition.”

Ms McDonald has called for Mr Varadkar’s resignation following the disclosure that a Garda investigation has commenced into the Tánaiste’s decision last year - when serving as taoiseach - to pass a confidential agreement on the GP contract agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation to the leader of a rival GP group.

Defence

On Tuesday Mr Varadkar strongly defended himself in the face of the calls. Speaking to Pat Kenny on Newstalk this morning, Mr Varadkar said gardaí had not been in touch to tell him what law he has allegedly broken.

“I’m basing pretty much everything on what I read in media reports,” he said.

“What I do know is that a complaint was made to the gardaí four or five months ago. They’re investigating it.

“I’d expect no less. They’ve taken some statements. They haven’t been in contact with me yet. I’ve offered to meet them, I’ve offered to be interviewed, to make a statement, sworn, under caution, whatever is necessary because I’m keen to have this matter concluded,” he said.

He said his statement would be the same as the one he made in the Dáil last November.

“I shared a document with the then president of the NAGP in a way that was inappropriate. I accounted for it in the Dáil. I apologised for it,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I didn’t do anything illegal or corrupt or self-interested. There was no personal gain, no personal benefit, [I]did no harm to anyone and conferred no advantage on anyone.”

He said it was “not a Cabinet document, it was not a Cabinet secret. It was not a budget secret. It was not classified. It was not even a contract, it was an agreement about changes to a contract and negotiations about it had concluded, or at least that’s what the Cabinet was informed. And I have a Cabinet memo from the April 9th to confirm that.”

He repeated that all the details from the document had already been put into the public domain “long before I shared it with Dr O Tuathail.”

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry, and the party’s youth wing have called on Mr Varadkar to step aside pending the outcome of the investigation.

However, Mr Martin and the Green Party have both said they have confidence in Mr Varadkar to remain in office.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said on Tuesday Mr Varadkar has a right to due process during the investigation without having to face ongoing calls to resign or step aside.

Mr Harris said: “You do not give up your right to due process when you run for elected office. I think it’s very unhelpful and irresponsible for any of us in public life to provide an ongoing and running commentary into an ongoing and robust Garda investigation that has to be allowed to run its course.”

“This idea of people saying ‘step aside without prejudice’. That is not due process. That is people deciding that they know better than the independent investigation.”

Mr Harris was also asked about the stout defence of Mr Varadkar at the weekend by incoming interim Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys.

She told RTÉ’s Week in Politics that the Tánaiste had nothing to gain from sharing the document, “only to try and get a resolution to a long-standing issue over GP contracts”.

In his response to that interjection, Mr Harris said: “Speaking for myself, I think it’s important that the Garda process run its course without any interference or commentary by anybody. And I believe that. I believe that very strongly.”

Distraction

Earlier, the Labour Party criticised the resignation call by Ms McDonald which is said was designed to distract attention from Sinn Féin’s decision to abstain on a DUP motion on abortion in the Northern Assembly, rather than to vote against it.

Dublin Bay North TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin who criticised Ms McDonald’s intervention said the Labour Party position on Mr Varadkar had been consistent since November, when the party said he should have resigned because of the disclosures.

Ms McDonald said her party’s position on abortion in the North was consistent with the South and it wanted the same regime in both jurisdictions.

She said the party had abstained in the vote because the motion was a “stunt” by the Democratic Unionist Party and it had no desire “to go down that rabbithole”.

“It is an utter disgrace that the DUP and UUP have blocked the commission of abortion services,” she said.

She said Sinn Féin had raised the issue at the meeting of the Executive on Wednesday and now expected a paper from Minister for Health Robert Swann on the provision of abortion services.

The contract contained details of a deal the government had provisionally agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation.

At the time Dr O Tuathail was president of the National Association of GPs (NAGP), a rival organisation that is now defunct.

Mr Varadkar has apologised for his actions in the Dáil, and survived a Sinn Féin vote of no confidence.

The investigation relates to revelations, published in Village magazine last year, that Mr Varadkar, who was then taoiseach, improperly leaked a confidential copy of a proposed new general practitioner (GP) contract to Dr O Tuathail.

The contract contained details of the deal the government had provisionally agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation.

At the time Dr O Tuathail was president of the National Association of GPs (NAGP), a rival organisation representing GPs that is now defunct.

It is understood the focus for gardaí is establishing whether a criminal offence was committed under the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018.