Political ethics watchdog asked to investigate leaking of document by Varadkar

Coveney says there was ‘no personal gain’ for Tánaiste in passing on the document

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The State’s political ethics watchdog has been asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding the leaking of a document by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to a group representing GPs.

Rise TD Paul Murphy has written to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) and requested that the watchdog urgently examine the issue.

It emerged at the weekend that Mr Varadkar passed a draft of a new contract for general practitioners negotiated between the then government and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in April last year to a friend who was head of a rival group, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin requesting all information surrounding the leak be put into the public domain.

The Labour Party and other Opposition parties have also strongly criticised the Tánaiste.

However, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that there was “no personal gain” for Mr Varadkar in passing on the document.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live programme on Monday night, Mr Coveney said he had spoken with Mr Varadkar over the weekend and that he “regrets the way this happened and what he did”.

Mr Coveney said: “When Leo Varadkar sent the document to the head of the NAGP it was on a confidential basis on the basis of wanting to brief him on where they were at in terms of what the deal looked like.

“What we wanted was as many GPs across the country buying into this new contract. It was a €210 million deal. It was really good news for about 400,000 people that had medical cards.

“There was no personal gain in this for Leo Varadkar.”

He said the then taoiseach, however, should have instructed the former minister for health Simon Harris to give a briefing to the NAGP.

When asked about a comment captured in screengrabs of texts that “Leo always delivers”, Mr Coveney said: “I can’t answer for what Maitiú Ó Tuathail says to his friends in a text.”

Mr Coveney said there was huge pressure for the Government to get the deal over the line last year. Furthermore, he said, there was pressure from Opposition parties to include the NAGP in the discussions. He said the approach of the Government did work as the vast majority of GPs signed up to the deal.

“The deal was done. The IMO was holding meetings to brief GPs. This was not something that was hidden from stakeholders.”

Sipo letter

In his letter to Sipo, Mr Murphy says that “the material published by Village Magazine [on the leak] and confirmed by the Tánaiste’s statement speaks to a culture of insiders helping insiders, with confidential information provided to an individual as a result of his friendship with, and political support for, Mr Varadkar”.

Mr Murphy’s letter referenced a statement issued by Fine Gael over the weekend which argued that Mr Varadkar did not breach any confidence in passing on the draft.

“The suggestion that giving the document to Maitiú Ó Tuathail ‘did not breach any confidence’ as is stated in the Tánaiste’s statement is manifestly inaccurate,” Mr Murphy writes.

“Regardless of the press statements and press events that were held, the document itself was not in the public domain.

“The document itself was marked ‘Confidential’. If the document was in the public domain, why would the NAGP be interested in having the document? Why would the then taoiseach take the trouble of sending it to his friend?

“Therefore the document was clearly a confidential document and giving it to Dr Ó Tuathail was a breach of confidence.”

In a lengthy statement issued on Saturday evening, Mr Varadkar accepted that his provision of the document, which he had couriered to the home of Dr Ó Tuathail, was “not best practice” and he expressed regret “that he did not ensure that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner”.

Dr Ó Tuathail said in a statement that the document was given to him as part of a pre-existing arrangement to share information on the deal.

‘Scandalous breach’

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin on Monday described the leak as a “scandalous breach of negotiating protocol”.

The Dublin Mid-West TD said his party leader had written to the Taoiseach on Monday requesting all correspondence and contact between Mr Varadkar and Dr Ó Tuathail – in addition to related contacts with then minister for health Simon Harris – be put in the public domain.

The party wants all the documents made available in advance of the Tánaiste speaking on the matter in the Dáil on Tuesday.

Sinn Féin Dublin Fingal TD Louise O’Reilly said what had occurred would potentially break the relationship of trust between government and trade unions.

“The head of government should be held accountable to a high standard,” she said. “We want to see a full and frank statement from the Tánaiste.”

She said her party would consider Mr Varadkar’s response on Tuesday before deciding on what further action it would take. Ms O’Reilly declined to say if her party would table a motion of no confidence.

Mr Ó Broin said senior Fine Gael Ministers had spent the past two days “trying to brush this matter under the carpet”.

He said “leak” was not a strong enough word for what had happened.

“This was a scandalous breach of negotiating protocol and also of trust and faith by the then taoiseach.

“You then have the Minister for Justice suggesting that no wrong had been done, something I would have thought was inappropriate for a Minister for Justice to say.”