Pressure mounts on Varadkar as Opposition set to question Tánaiste over leak

FG figures rally to leader’s defence despite Government unease over controversy

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar issued a statement in which he rejected Village magazine’s claims that he may have broken the law. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar issued a statement in which he rejected Village magazine’s claims that he may have broken the law. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

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Opposition parties sought to intensify pressure on Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on Sunday night after weekend revelations that he passed details of a draft agreement for doctors to a friend when he was taoiseach.

Opposition leaders are expected to quiz the Tánaiste in the Dáil on Tuesday about the affair and also about any other documents he provided to people outside government.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane said it was “a scandal”.

“What he was doing was looking after a friend – the old boys’ club, looking after the insiders,” Mr Cullinane said.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said there were “a lot of outstanding questions [Mr Varadkar] needs to answer, and the situation is not exactly how he outlined it in his statement on Saturday”.

The revelations, published in Village magazine, that Mr Varadkar passed a draft of the new deal for general practitioners negotiated between the 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), caused a political storm over the weekend.

Mr Varadkar issued a lengthy statement on Saturday evening in which he rejected the magazine’s claims that he may have broken the law. He said he passed on the draft document in a bid to secure wider backing among doctors for the new contract.

Mr Varadkar accepted that his provision of the document, which he had couriered to the home of Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, a personal friend, was “not best practice” and he expressed regret “that he did not ensure that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner”.

But Labour frontbencher Aodhan O Riordain questioned Mr Varadkar’s rationale for sharing the document. “The motivation he has cited as the reason why he gave this document over doesn’t stand up. When he handed this document over, which was confidential, was he doing it as Taoiseach or as a friend of Maitiu O Tuathail?”

“He states it was on the basis of trying to get greater acceptability for the deal. That’s not the motivation for the NAGP, they’re a rival entity to the IMO. It wouldn’t follow that their motivation in receiving this document is to sell the deal,” Mr O Riordain said.

Statement

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

The statement matches elements of the version of events outlined by Mr Varadkar on Saturday – including the contention that the content of the leaked document had largely been finalised at the time he received it.

“We received a copy of the finalised, agreed and announced programme for chronic disease management from the then taoiseach in mid-April. This was seen as a continuation of the decision by the government to consult with the NAGP and its GP members and keep them informed throughout.”

The sensitivity of the information received, and the degree to which it might be seen as being largely signed off at the time the leak took place, is likely to be a key part of the political fallout from the controversy in the coming days.

It appears that while the leadership of the NAGP had a copy of the document in their possession from mid-April, they did not circulate it to their members to promote acceptance of the proposed new agreement.

In a statement on April 29th last year, the NAGP said “many GPs are waiting to see the details of the new offer before they renew their membership subscription. This has created financial difficulties for the NAGP.

“It is now three weeks since the announcement of the new contract and to date there is no sign of any contract or contractual document.”

At the time, the organisation was going through a major internal upheaval which saw the resignation of its president Dr Ó Tuathail and its governing council amid allegations over governance and spending.

Fine Gael politicians rallied to Mr Varadkar’s defence yesterday but there is unease throughout Government about the controversy.

While several Fianna Fáil sources were privately highly critical of Mr Varadkar, they also said that unless there were further revelations about the affair, Taoiseach Micheál Martin was likely to stand by his Coalition partner. It is understood there were no further contacts between the two men yesterday.

The Green Party, which said Mr Varadkar had questions to answer, is likely to await his explanations in the Dáil, sources said.