Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that he was unaware that the Government's nominee to its standards watchdog had previously lobbied for the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).
The NAGP is the group to which Mr Varadkar controversially leaked a copy of the new GP contract last year which had been negotiated between the then government and rival group the Irish Medical Organisation.
Under questioning from Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty in the Dáil on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said he did not know Geraldine Feeney had been a lobbyist for the now defunct group . The group is the subject of a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo), the body to which the Government is now seeking to appoint her.
Mr Doherty said there was a question whether it was appropriate to appoint a lobbyist to the position in the first place. There was a further question about appointing someone who had lobbied for the NAGP, he said.
“Geraldine Feeney in her role as a lobbyist only ever lobbied for the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP. Her eight returns to the Standards in Public Office Commission show that,” Mr Doherty told Mr Varadkar in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions.
“The Tánaiste is aware that there is a complaint relating to his conduct on which Sipo will have to adjudicate. Is it appropriate that the Tánaiste and the Government have proposed, after a nine-month delay, to appoint Geraldine Feeney, who was a professional lobbyist for the NAGP with regard to the GP contract, to the Standards in Public Office Commission?”
Ms Feeney, a former Fianna Fáil senator, has been nominated by the Government to fill the vacancy for a former Oireachtas member on the six-member commission.
Mr Varadkar replied: “The idea of having a former politician on Sipo is to have somebody who has a working understanding of the work we do as politicians. I think it was Mr Jim O’Keeffe in the past and it is now proposed to be Geraldine Feeney.”
But there was significant criticism from Opposition politicians on Thursday afternoon, and disbelief in Government that it should open itself to political attack.
Responding to queries, a Government spokesperson said “the Government is proposing Ms Feeney’s appointment to the role . . . based upon her experience as a public representative, her reputation for fairness and integrity, and her experience of regulatory affairs, all of which will be an asset to the Commission.”
She has not engaged in lobbying activity for several years, added a spokesman.
The Government nominated Ms Feeney to the role of ordinary member of Sipo at Cabinet this week. The next stage of the process of her nomination will depend on resolutions passed in the Dáil and Seanad.