Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the allegations that he broke the law by leaking a document about an agreement for GPs were “false” and were made by “sworn political opponents”.
Mr Varadkar again apologised for what he said was his “error” in the way he passed on the document to the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) but said it was “lawful” and he did it in the public interest.
A Garda investigation was conducted into Mr Varadkar’s leaking of a document related to the proposed GP agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation to his then-friend, Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.
He was president of the rival, and now defunct, NAGP.
On Thursday Mr Varadkar said there had been a “thorough” Garda investigation and he was told by his solicitor that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had determined that he had “no case to answer”
Mr Varadkar said the leaked document, while marked confidential on the day it was created, was not classified and did not go to Cabinet and that by the time he disclosed it “the contents were largely in the public domain”.
He thanked the other Coalition leaders as well as his family and friends for their trust in him and said: “It has been a difficult and uncertain period for all of us.”
Details of the leak were first reported by Village Magazine in October 2020 which had the front page headline “Leo, Law Breaker”.
Its editor, Michael Smith, told The Irish Times on Thursday: “We stand by our story.”
He said Village Magazine alleged that the “primary case” was under the Official Secrets Act 1963.
However, he added that it was “subject to a now-expired statute bar after six months from commission of any offences, when prosecuted summarily, as it would have to have been here”.
In his statement on Thursday, Mr Varadkar accepted his use of an informal personal channel to disclose the document was “inappropriate”.
But he added: “The allegations made against me, that it was anything more than error, were false.
“They were made by sworn political opponents of me and my party.
“I know that I did not break any law, do anything corrupt or even self-interested. That is now clear to any fair-minded person.”
The Fine Gael leader said: “Those who made these allegations went to extraordinary lengths to publicise them” and their actions were “politically motivated” and “often highly personalised”.
Mr Varadkar also said: “It is now a matter of public record that at least one of those persons was subject to investigation in respect of their own conduct in this affair.”
This is an apparent reference to healthcare entrepreneur Chay Bowes, the source of Village Magazine’s story.
Mr Bowes said he had faced the “bizarre” situation of being interviewed by gardaí as potentially facing charges but that he was also informed the DPP had determined he would face no charges.
He said he was not a member of a political party and he described Mr Varadkar’s remarks about him as a “false narrative” on his motivations.
Mr Bowes accused Mr Varadkar of “cronyism” and said: “We will continue to scrutinise the behaviour of senior politicians and hold them accountable to their employers, the Irish people.”
It was the chief executive of tech conference organisers Web Summit, Paddy Cosgrave, who introduced Mr Bowes, to Village Magazine.
Mr Cosgrave opened last year’s Web Summit conference by projecting an image of the Village Magazine story and bringing Mr Bowes and Mr Smith on to the main stage.
In a Tweet on Thursday Mr Cosgrave claimed: “Varadkar will be forever guilty of cronyism in the court of public opinion.”
Mr Cosgrave said on Thursday afternoon that the matter was “far from over”.
He said: “Village Magazine’s Editor Michael Smith stands by his story.
“[DPP] Catherine Pierse’s explanation as DPP not to prosecute will, when it is released, require scrutiny.
“Thereafter, Catherine Pierse’s decision not to prosecute can be challenged through the courts by way of application for Judicial Review to the High Court.”
However, it is not clear the DPP can be compelled to release her reasons for not directing a prosecution in this case.
Victims of an alleged crime can request the DPP to release reasons not to prosecute, as can family members of a victim in cases involving a fatality.
However, the definition of victim, as laid out in the Victims of Crime Act 2017 is relatively narrow: “‘Victim’ means a natural person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss, which was directly caused by an offence.”
It is not clear if any of the parties to the case fall into this category. Victims have 28 days to request reasons not to prosecute. On receiving the reasons, they can ask for an internal review of the decision.
Decisions taken by the DPP were also subject to judicial review but only in extremely limited circumstances, legal sources said.
There needs to be an “exceptional basis” for a judicial review to succeed, one barrister explained. This might include improper application of policy, improper motives or evidence the prosecutors acted in bad faith.
“Simply saying you don’t like the decision isn’t enough. Not by a long shot,” said another.
The 14-month investigation by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) was delayed in part due to the “drip-feed” manner in which information was provided to investigators, Garda sources said.
“One aspect of the investigation would be squared away but then there would be a new report or something new posted on social media which would have to be examined and taken into account,” said a source. “Information was coming in in dribs and drabs which extended the period of investigation.”
The investigation was also not considered a top priority as there was no one in custody awaiting trial and no vulnerable victims awaiting a decision. “It might have been a political priority but it wasn’t a policing priority. Other cases rightly took precedence,” said one garda.
Gardaí were conscious not to be seen to treat the investigation any differently due to the involvement of the Tánaiste. According to one garda, “it took its place in the pile”.
Some gardaí said they did not expect the DPP to be so quick in coming back with a decision not to prosecute.
A DPP spokeswoman said it did not comment on individual cases but pointed towards published guidelines on how decisions to prosecute are taken.
“In addition, in accordance with the Criminal Justice [Victims of Crime] Act 2017, reasons for decisions not to prosecute are provided, when requested, to persons who meet the definition of a victim under the Act,” she said.