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Varadkar leak controversy: Tánaiste to face Dáil grilling from opposition parties this afternoon

The Fine Gael leader is facing growing pressure to explain his actions.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin says he has confidence in the Tánaiste.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin says he has confidence in the Tánaiste.
Image: Leah Farrell

OPPOSITION LEADERS WILL today quiz the Tánaiste in the Dáil about revelations that he passed details of an agreement for doctors to a friend, the head of a rival representative group, when he was Taoiseach.

The Fine Gael leader is facing growing pressure following the publication of an article by the Village Magazine over the weekend.

The story has prompted severe criticism by opposition parties, with the Green Party also stating at the weekend that Varadkar’s actions were “not appropriate”.

Varadkar said that the article – which details alleged communications between the then-Taoiseach and the National Association of General Practitioners in 2019 – is “both inaccurate and grossly defamatory”.

However, he also accepted that the provision of the pay agreement between the government and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) by an informal communication channel to the president of the NAGP, a rival grouping, was not best practice.

The statement said he “regrets” that he did not ensure it was provided in a more “appropriately formal manner”.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he had confidence in Varadkar as Tánaiste, stating that no laws were broken. Speaking with reporters, he conceded that the passing of the document in such a manner was not “best practice” and that it was not an appropriate way of handling such material. 

Whether the backing of the Taoiseach will be enough to see Varadkar make it through the controversy remains to be seen.

Varadkar is due to make a 20-minute statement in the Dáil at around 4pm today. The seven opposition parties will get 10 minutes each for a Q&A on the matter.

There are differing views in the Fianna Fáil party on the issue. Backbencher Barry Cowen told TheJournal.ie: “He’s as entitled to make a mistake no more than myself.”

“He’s acknowledged it wasn’t best practice and it was, it would appear, with good intentions. I wouldn’t be one for dancing or threatening to dance on a grave.”

Education Minister Norma Foley meanwhile said at the weekend that the Tánaiste had questions to answer but warned against “pre-judging” his actions.

Some within the parliamentary party believe the statement issued over the weekend was a sufficient explanation, and are happy to take their lead from Martin.

One source said that they don’t believe the matter will progress much further, but added that they hoped the incident would  “put some manners on him” and stop Varadkar from further undermining the Taoiseach by speaking out against government initiatives.

However, others don’t believe that the Taoiseach’s support for him is that significant, but merely a sign of where the balance of power lies in the coalition. 

One Fianna Fáiler said there are a lot more questions to be answered, such as why the document was couriered over or sent in the post, and not emailed.

It is understood that no one in the party is particularly surprised at the support Martin has shown Varadkar – however one source stated that some within Fianna Fáil would not be given the same latitude.

Anyone other than Varadkar caught up in this situation and it would be “game over”, one source pointed out. 

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The Green Party are taking a tougher stance on the matter than Fianna Fáil, with party sources stating it is more than a matter of ‘wait and see what Varadkar says today’ and more to do with some of his explanations not standing up to scrutiny in their view. 

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald has written to the Tánaiste seeking for all documentation and correspondence relating to the matter to be put in the public domain ahead of today’s Dáil hearing. 

TD Louise O’Reilly has said it is disappointing to see senior Fine Gael ministers come out in defence of Varadkar. She called it a case of “circling the wagons”.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Helen McEntee and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris echoed the sentiments from other Fine Gael colleagues saying that while Varadkar had not followed “best practice”, the details of the deal were already out in public. 

Harris said he was not aware that the Tánaiste had passed on the agreement to the then leader of the NAGP, Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.

Rise TD Paul Murphy has written to the Standards In Public Office (Sipo) requesting that it investigate Varadkar’s sharing of the document with the NAGP.

 

 

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