Varadkar fundraiser run by chair of US firm HSE chief has joined

Taoiseach: ‘I know Thomas Lynch. He’d be well known to lots of people in business circles.’

The chairman of the company to which HSE director general Tony O’Brien has been appointed ran a political fundraiser for the Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar confirmed in the Dáil that businessman Thomas Lynch, chairman of the US contraceptive manufacturer Evofem Biosciences which Mr O’Brien has joined as a director, had organised the fundraiser.

Mr Lynch is also chairman of the board of Ireland East Hospital, the country’s largest hospital group and the Mater hospital.

Mr Varadkar was responding to Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall who asked the Taoiseach about his relationship with Mr Lynch and if the businessman had hosted a fundraiser for him last year.


He said: “I know Thomas Lynch. He’d be well known to lots of people in business circles. He’s a successful business person who’s the chair of a number of bodies including that board.”

He added that “to my knowledge he has no involvement whatsoever in CervicalCheck”. Ms Shortall persisted and asked if it was the case that he had organised a fundraiser.

As the Taoiseach sat down he nodded and said it was a matter for the record.

Pressure was put on the Government in the Dáil over what the Opposition described as a clear conflict of interest in Mr O’Brien’s appointment to the San Diego company on January 17th, almost two months before he publicly announced he would leave the HSE in August.

The Taoiseach said Mr O’Brien’s contract allowed him to serve on boards and there was no conflict of interest.

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that Mr O'Brien had agreed a deal with Mr Harris which allowed him to take up a lucrative role as a board member of US contraceptives manufacturer Eurofem for a period before he leaves his role.

Mr Varadkar said Mr O’Brien’s contract allows him to serve on boards once there is no conflict of interest and if ministerial consent is received.

Mr O’Brien became a board member of the San Diego company Evofem Biosciences January 17th before he announced his intention was to leave the HSE in August.

Mr Varadkar said there was no conflict of interest in this case.

“Also, the Minister, in approving it, was aware Mr O’Brien was coming to the end of his term,’’ he said, adding that it was this basis the Minister approved it. He said he had no reason to question the validity of the decision.

Mr O’Brien would work five hours a month for the company in his own time and any board meetings would be during his annual leave.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was a scandal that Mr O’Brien was being left in his post for the remaining weeks to “sail into the sunset with a large pension and a hefty gratuity having left a scene of devastation, upset and trauma behind him”.

“And if you were serious about leadership on this matter, and if you were really serious about reassuring the women across this country, you would do the first thing that needed to happen and remove this incompetent man,” she told Mr Varadkar.

Mr Martin said Eurofem’s chairman was Irish businessman Thomas Lynch, who chaired the board of Ireland East Hospital Group, the country’s largest hospital group, and the Mater Hospital.

“I am very taken aback by your answer to my earlier question about a conflict of interest,” he added.

“Do you not get the conflict of interest ?’’

He said he did not know how Mr O’Brien was facilitated on going on the board.

It was simply not reconcilable that you could be on in charge of the health service and be on the board of a company where the chairman was also the chairman of a hospital, Mr Martin added.

The Minister, he said, had made a grave error in facilitating Mr O’Brien.

Mr Varadkar said there was no conflict of interest. He said the letter approving the Minister’s decision had referred to it being done on the basis that the business was based outside of the State and was neither competitive with, nor engaging with, any business of the HSE.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times