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Leo Varadkar

Varadkar acknowledges sharing GP agreement was 'not best practice' but rejects wrongdoing

Allegations that Varadkar breached a number of laws were made in a story by the Village magazine.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Oct 2020

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has acknowledged it was not “best practice” to provide a government document to a medical organisation through informal channels, but he has rejected accusations that he broke any laws by doing so.

A press statement issued on behalf of the Tánaiste claimed an article by the Village – which details alleged communications between the then-Taoiseach and the National Association of General Practitioners in 2019 – is “both inaccurate and grossly defamatory”.

However, the Tánaiste accepts 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”.

Varadkar said has sought legal advice in relation to the story, which was published by the magazine this morning.

A lengthy and detailed statement, rebutting and rejecting the allegations, was released this afternoon by the Fine Gael press office.

It confirmed that the then-Taoiseach had provided the President of the NAGP, Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail, with a copy of the 2019 Agreement on GP contractual reforms some time between the 11 and 16 April. 

The statement said this was after the “essential details” of the contract were released publicly at the beginning of that month.  

“The provision of a copy of the Agreement to Dr Ó Tuathail, in his capacity as President of the NAGP occurred in circumstances where the legitimate objective of this action was to encourage acceptance of the Agreement amongst the General Practitioner community.

The Tánaiste accepts that the provision of the Agreement by an informal communication channel to the President of the NAGP was not best practice and he regrets that he did not ensure that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner.

“There was however, nothing in any way unlawful about the provision of the Agreement to the President of the NAGP,” the statement adds.

The Irish Medical Organisation is the largest representative body for Irish doctors. But from 2013 onwards, it faced some competition from the National Association of General Practitioners – a body that aimed to represent GPs and which sought to rapidly attract new members. 

The NAGP had been vocal about its exclusion from government talks on GP contracts which led to it criticising the process. The body went into liquidation in July 2019.

Varadkar wanted, as head of government, to ensure the agreement was well-received by the entire GP community, the statement claimed.

“The provision of the agreement to Dr. Ó Tuathail requires to be seen in the context of the potential unfairness of one representative body for General Practitioners (the IMO) having access to the Agreement at a time when the other representative body (the NAGP) did not,” it added.  

The statement went on to deny Varadkar’s actions amounted to a breach of the Official Secrets Act, 1963; the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018; the Dáil members’ Code of Conduct 2002; the Office Holders’ Code of Conduct 2003; or data protection legislation.

The Village has been contacted for comment following the release of Varadkar’s statement. In a statement on Twitter, it said that the Tánaiste’s statement “provokes dramatically more questions than answers”. 

In a fresh statement this evening, Labour reiterated its calls for the Tánaiste to answer questions in the Dáil on Tuesday. 

The party’s Labour Enterprise spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said there were serious issues that had to be addressed. 

“The Tánaiste in his own words confirmed that when he was Taoiseach he personally gave a confidential document on a contractual agreement to a competitor body of the IMO,” he said. 

“The IMO was the recognised body for negotiating with the State on behalf of GPs. It is affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The NAGP had no role in the negotiations or in voting to accept the agreement despite the attempt by the Tánaiste to imply that providing the document was an effort to build acceptance of the deal. The Taoiseach was not responsible for this deal, his Minister for Health was.”

He noted that the agreement had not been finalised or been provided to all Opposition spokespeople before 16 April 2019. 

A morning of controversy

Earlier in the day, the allegations had led to opposition parties today demanding answers and a full statement in the Dáil.

Backbench figures in Fianna Fáil also raised concerns. Dublin TD Jim O’Callaghan called it a “serious and specific allegation”.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said that Varadkar has questions to answer. 

“This is an extremely serious situation and the Fine Gael leader needs to make a full statement on the matter immediately,” she said. 

“This isn’t tittle tattle or indiscretion.”

Other parties made similar demands. Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said, “The Minister for Enterprise must clarify and confirm whether what is reported happened.” 

He also called on Varadkar to make a statement to the Dáil on the matter on Tuesday, as did Rise TD Paul Murphy. 

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said: “In view of the import of these allegations we’re calling on the Tanáiste to make an immediate public statement on the veracity of these allegations.”

Dr Ó Tuathail has also been contacted for comment.