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Sasko Lazarov
Dáil row

Varadkar: 'I'm entitled to a due process and the presumption of innocence over guilt'

A senator said conversations that took place in the Dáil last week about arrests and prosecutions were ‘very stigmatising’.

THE TÁNAISTE HAS said he is doesn’t disagree with comments made by Senator Lynn Ruane in relation to last week’s heated remarks between himself and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, but added that he too is entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence.

The senator last week criticised comments made by Leo Varadkar in the Dáil where he referred to Sinn Féin’s Doherty’s arrest as a 20-year-old. 

Varadkar and Doherty were debating the cost-of-living crisis when the Fine Gael leader was accused of being “out of touch” on the matter.

Doherty, Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman, said Varadkar should be “a bit more humble” in his responses given that the DPP is considering allegations against him under the Corruption Act.

The file regarding the leaking of a GP contract by Varadkar has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who will make a decision whether or not to proceed with a charge.

In November 2020, the Tánaiste survived a confidence motion in the Dáil over the matter but the lack of a conclusion to the investigation has meant it has remained a political issue. 

The matter was upgraded to a criminal investigation in March 2021.

It followed the revelation that Varadkar had sent a copy of an agreement between the government and the IMO to a rival GP group, the NAGP. 

He had sent the contract to GP Maitiú Ó Tuathail of the NAGP who he later described as a friend but “not a close friend”

Varadkar is on the record repeatedly stating that the allegations made against him with regards to the leaking of a GP contract are “false” and “politically motivated”.  

The Tánaiste accused Doherty of hurling a very personal shot against him when the matter was raised in the Dáil last week. 

“It says a lot about you, and the nature and character of the kind of person you are and it’s particularly strange coming from you because you were prosecuted,” Varadkar added.

You abused, mistreated a Garda Siochána. For that you were prosecuted, you were found guilty. Yes, you got away without a conviction because of your age at the time. But you were actually prosecuted, you were arrested. That’s what happened to you.

Following the personal spat in the Dáil, Ruane told The Journal on Friday that conversations like the one between Doherty and Varadkar last week, “really stigmatise people, because they might have been arrested at some stage in their lives and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a bad person”.

She added that it is “not necessarily about Pearse or Leo for me, it’s about the words that you say, and how they impact communities”.

We should be encouraging people to get on with their lives and not “shaming” people for “mistakes that they made in their past or in their childhoods or as teenagers or even in their 20s,” she said.

Leo or Pearse or politicians in general – it’s this idea that they’re only having conversations with each other, and not realising that there’s a whole society out there that are watching the engagement, that see themselves in that argument.

When asked about the senator’s comments today, Varadkar said he had read the comments from Ruane, adding that he has a lot of respect for the senator.  

“I have a lot of respect for her. I’ve worked with her, as has the Government and my party, on the whole issue around spent convictions. So you know, I don’t disagree with what she has to say. But I do think it lacked context, you know, she didn’t say anything critical about deputy Doherty,” he said. 

Ruane told The Journal last week that the comments in the Dáil go against the position the Government has taken recently on spent convictions.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has supported Ruane’s bill on spent convictions, which seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a conviction that has become spent, as well as establishing a legal route where someone can apply to have a conviction declared spent, through the courts or an independent assessment board.

The minster has launched a public consultation on spent convictions as a result.

Ruane said the Government supported the idea of a person getting a “second chance” so they can “get on with their lives and are not judged on what they’ve done in the past”.

“So their own politics and policy to support a greater spent conviction regime is in conflict and with dialogue and conversations like that in the Dáil,” she said.

Varadkar said today the issue only arose in the Dáil last week when he felt that Doherty implied that he was not  entitled to due process.

“You know, I’ve been charged with nothing. I’ve not been prosecuted, not been convicted,” he said.

Doherty was found guilty of a minor breach of the peace in July 1999, along with three other Sinn Féin activists. 

The court applied the Probation Act, which is not, in Irish law, a recorded conviction.

In a statement, following the spat in the Dáil last week, Doherty said: 

“Almost three decades ago I was involved in a very minor breach of the peace in Dublin city centre.

“It was dealt with under the Probation Act. It has been covered in the media on numerous occasions.”

Varadkar said he hopes Ruane agrees that he is “entitled to a due process and the presumption of innocence over guilt”.

He said just because he is “a Fine Gaeler” that doesn’t mean he is not entitled to those basic human rights.

“I hope she’ll maybe acknowledge that at the very least,” he said.