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'Revenue are counting the chip bags coming out of chip shops' - Taoiseach defends use of PIs to investigate consultants

The hiring of private investigators by government departments was reported upon in last weekend’s Sunday Business Post.

8 Leo Varadkar, taking questions in the Dáil this afternoon Source: Oireachtas.ie

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has defended the government’s use of private investigators in its legal fight over pay claims against certain hospital consultants who are allegedly in breach of their contract.

The issue, which was reported upon by the Sunday Business Post last weekend, relates to a series of court cases involving the government and said consultants over pay claims.

The SBP reported that the government, specifically the Departments of Health, Finance, and Public Expenditure, had authorised the use of private investigators to spy on those consultants in order to verify or otherwise that they were fulfilling their contracted hours in public hospitals.

Today, at Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, leader of Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin suggested that in doing so the government had set a “sinister and dangerous precedent”, one that was “potentially an abuse of power”.

7 Micheál Martin Source: Oireachtas.ie

He asked Varadkar whether or not the ministers of the various departments involved had been aware of the practice of commissioning private investigators.

In response, the Taoiseach said that given the nature of the ongoing court cases regarding this issue, he was “limited in what I can say”.

‘Serious issue’

He said however, that “there are some consultants who breach their contract, who worked in a private hospital when they should have been in a public one” and that the matter was a “very serious issue”.

He said that when RTÉ Prime Time conducted its own investigation into the matter using private investigators, it was recognised as having performed a “public service”.

He further added that surveillance by State bodies is not unheard of.

“You have Revenue inspectors counting the number of chip bags coming out of a chip vendor,” he said.

Responding, Martin countered that it was not acceptable for the government to say “whatever the media does we can do too”.

He said that government inspectors are “governed by a code” and that it wasn’t fair to think that “consultants are fair game”. He again demanded to know whether the various ministers knew of or had authorised the private investigations.

Varadkar said that moonlighting consultants were “damaging the interests of the patient”.

While declining to directly deal with the issue of whether or not ministers knew, he did say that “there was no ministerial involvement in execution of strategy”.

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