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An uneasy show of support: Coalition partners sticking by Varadkar amid calls for him to step aside

If charges were to be brought, Fianna Fáil would call for his removal, sources said.

Image: PA

AN UNEASY SHOW of support. 

Government backbenchers agreed that the phrase above pretty much summed up the current state of affairs in government in the wake of the latest developments surrounding the Garda probe into Leo Varadkar’s leak of a GP contract almost two years ago. 

It comes amid opposition calls for him to step aside. It was confirmed at the weekend that the probe was now being treated as a criminal investigation.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday called for the Tánaiste to resign or be removed, describing the leak as a “blatant abuse of power”.

Varadkar has admitted that in April 2019, while he was Taoiseach, he sent a copy of a doctors’ pay deal between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to his friend, Dr Maitiu O Tuathail.

Dr O Tuathail was head of the rival organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), at the time.

McDonald said that “politically this cannot be tolerated”, with her party stating Varadkar’s position is untenable. 

But Fine Gael, despite mutterings of deep unhappiness at the leaking of the report and the damage it has done to the party, are sticking by Varadkar.

When asked what the mood music was in Fine Gael, one TD said a tweet from veteran journalist Vincent Browne summed up their party’s attitude to Sinn Fein’s calls for Varadkar to step aside.

“Mary Lou wants Leo Varadkar sacked because the Gardai are investigating him re a crime: the leaking of a confidential documenting document,” Browne tweeted. 

“Why did she not demand Gerry Adams be sacked when the PSNI were investigating him re a crime: Jean McConville’s murder?”

Adams was arrested and questioned over the 1972 murder in 2014. The former Sinn Féin leader has categorically denied any involvement in the killing.

When asked over the weekend if Varadkar should stand aside, without prejudice, from his position at Cabinet while gardaí investigate the matter, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said: “Absolutely not.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, she added: “The Tánaiste made his position very clear in the Dáil last November. He said it was an error of judgement.

“What he did was in the interest of GPs, patients and the general public. He had nothing to gain from sharing that document.”

However, despite the show of support for Varadkar, there is no doubt that some political damage has been done to the Tánaiste.

So far, his party are sticking by their man – but what about Fianna Fáil and the Greens?

Ógra Fianna Fáil – the youth wing of the party – has called on the Tánaiste to temporarily stand-aside, pending the outcome of the Garda investigation. However a FF spokesperson has said the view of the party is that Tanaiste is “entitled to due process”.

A Green Party spokesperson said the gardaí had received a complaint and must be allowed to do their job.

“The Green Party acknowledges the account and apology given by the Tánaiste in the Dáil last November and has confidence in him.”

But behind closed doors, what’s being said?

Contacted by The Journal yesterday most Fianna Fáil TDs were reluctant to be quoted, noting that they did not want to be seen to be stirring it up.

One Fianna Fáiler said it was embarrassing for the government and for Fine Gael that a minister was being investigated by gardai for corruption offences – but added that they didn’t think there would be a push for him to stand down in the wake of the weekend’s development.

On one level, they said, there are many Fianna Fáil ministers who have had to resign for less over the years.

It would be wrong to push him out of office however, they said.

If charges were brought against him, that would be a different story, said the Fianna Fáil source, stating that the party view would be that it would be “untenable for him to remain on”.

Another Fianna Fáil source said there was much unease in the party about the matter in November, but less so now. They pointed out that the party couldn’t be seen to vote confidence in Varadkar last year, and then “jump ship” before the Garda investigation had been completed. 

Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry told TheJournal.ie that he hasn’t spoke to anyone in the party about their attitude, but said “the reality is if a minister is the subject of a criminal investigation prudence demands that they should step aside albeit temporarily  pending the conclusion of the investigation”.

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said: “The Tánaiste made a statement and apology on this matter in Dáil Eireann, which was accepted by the Government.

“The Taoiseach has confidence in the Tánaiste and has nothing further to add to the comments he made previously.”

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It is understood the focus for gardaí is establishing whether a criminal offence was committed under the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018.

Speaking at the time that the legislation was brought into the Dáil in 2017, the then Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the new law reflected the recommendations of the Mahon tribunal.

“For instance, the Bill provides for a new offence covering public officials who use confidential information obtained in the course of their duties to corruptly obtain an advantage,” he said. 

 

 

 

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