'We’re not best mates': Varadkar questioned over leaked document controversy

'We’re not best mates': Varadkar questioned over leaked document controversy

Leo Varadkar leaving Dublin Castle after attending a Cabinet meeting. The Tanaiste has been accused of leaking documents relating to an agreement reached between the Department of Health, the HSE and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to rival organisation the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had made his first public address in the Dáil since his sharing of a confidential GP contract emerged over the weekend.

The Fine Gael leader said he welcomed the opportunity to "set the record straight" on his decision to disclose the document to Dr Maitiu O Tuathail.

Dr O Tuathail, a friend of Mr Varadkar, is a former president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), a rival organisation to the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

The leaked document contained a draft pay agreement reached between the Department of Health, the HSE and the IMO in April last year.

This was my sole motivation all along. I wanted what was best for general practice, for the patients and the public Mr Varadkar said in his statement he apologised for his "errors in judgment" concerning his sharing of the document.

He said he wished to share the motivations behind his actions, saying he was determined to get the GP deal in question "done with universal acceptance".

“I wanted to use the influence of the Taoiseach’s office to secure a new contract for GPs. It would be a big step forward for securing universal health care which I believe in," Mr Varadkar said.

"This was my sole motivation all along. I wanted what was best for general practice, for the patients and the public."

He described allegations he shared the document for personal gain as "deeply offensive."

On the issue of his friendship with Dr O Tuathail, Mr Varadkar said he had other friends who are GPs and had not supplied them with copies of the document.

“I didn’t give the document to my friends who are GPs. I only gave it to one person because he was the leader of the NAGP, not because he was my friend," he said.

“We are friends. But there are friends and there are friends. We are not close friends. Dr O Tuathail is the kind of friend that you meet two or three times a year.

“We’re not best mates or anything like that, I know that’s the narrative that’s trying to be created," Mr Varadkar said.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that Dr O Tuathail “made out that he was closer to me than he was”.

He was responding to Labour TD Aodhan O Riordain, who queried texts from Dr O Tuathail in the Village article which first revealed the leaking of the document, which read: “Leo constantly pulling strings for me. You’ve no idea.” Mr O’Riordain said he found the Tánaiste’s explanation on the issue “utterly incredible”.

“Your buddy, your pal, the guy with the Leo T-shirt, asked you for a copy of it and you said yes. Do you not feel that you were reckless in your behaviour?” he said.

Leo Varadkar leaving Dublin Castle after attending a Cabinet meeting. The Tanaiste has been accused of leaking documents relating to an agreement reached between the Department of Health, the HSE and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to rival organisation the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP). PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 3, 2020. See PA story IRISH Varadkar. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Leo Varadkar leaving Dublin Castle after attending a Cabinet meeting. The Tanaiste has been accused of leaking documents relating to an agreement reached between the Department of Health, the HSE and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to rival organisation the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP). PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 3, 2020. See PA story IRISH Varadkar. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

In his explanation of events, Mr Varadkar said he shared the document on a confidential basis believing its publication was imminent, as part of a Government commitment to keeping the NAGP informed.

He said he did this as he wanted to see there was nothing in the agreement worth "opposing or agitating against".

Mr Varadkar said the deal made in the end was "demonstrably good" for general practice and that providing a group with information concerning it "did not confer any advantage" over anyone else.

However, he said his sharing of the document concerning the deal over an "informal communication channel" was "not in good practice."

Mr Varadkar said this was an error he would "accept sole responsibility for".

He said he made an "error in judgement" while trying to achieve the "best" result for the GP deal but there was nothing "dishonest" or "corrupt" or "illegal" about his actions.

He said there was "no impact, certainly no negative one" following his sharing of the document, with the GP deal universally accepted by GPs.

This is favour for friends and I don’t buy your analysis of it.

Following Mr Varadkar's statement, Pearse Doherty rejected his explanation as to why he leaked the confidential document to the NAGP.

He told the Dáil: “This isn’t a junior official, Tánaiste. You were the head of Government. This is old boys stuff. This is not something that you just apologise for.

“This is favour for friends and I don’t buy your analysis of it.”

Mr Varadkar said he received a copy of the document from the Department of Health and read it before placing it in the recycling bin. He subsequently requested a second copy. Asked why he did this by Mr Doherty, Mr Varadkar replied: “I wanted to read it again.” The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has been asked to investigate the circumstances around the incident in a letter from Rise TD Paul Murphy.

Speaking in the Dáil earlier today, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Varadkar’s decision to leak the document constituted an abuse of his position as then Taoiseach.

“It’s clear he abused his position as (then) Taoiseach,” Ms McDonald said.

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