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Taoiseach says he has confidence in Leo Varadkar, says no laws were broken

The Taoiseach said it was not best practice and was inappropriate to share a document of this kind in that way with the NAGP.

"This was not the appropriate way to deal with a document of this kind, in terms of the manner in which it was sent to the president of the NAGP," the Taoiseach said today.
Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Nov 2nd 2020, 1:44 PM

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has said he has confidence in Leo Varadkar as Tánaiste and that no laws were broken in his view in relation to the sharing of the IMO agreement with the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

The Taoiseach said it was “not best practice” to share the document in that way, stating that the Tanaiste himself has accepted that.

When asked if he has confidence in the Tánaiste, Martin said:

“Yes. I mean, I don’t have an issue there in terms of how we’re working together.”

While he said it wasn’t an appropriate way to deal with a document of this kind, Martin said:

“I don’t believe any law was broken in relation to this. And I think, yes in terms of future practice, lessons can be learned from this. And in life we all, you know, can learn from previous experience.”

The Taoiseach said he was not in the last government, but as he understands it, the motivation for sharing the document was to try and get this agreement over the line.

On Saturday evening, the Tánaiste 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.

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

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

The former president of the NAGP Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail has said it was “wrong” for that group of GPs not to have sight of the draft contract agreed by the government in April 2019.

‘Not appropriate’

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings today, the Taoiseach said:

“This was not the appropriate way to deal with a document of this kind, in terms of the manner in which it was sent to the president of the NAGP.

“My own view generally on an agreement of this kind… given the amount of public money involved… this should have been public knowledge much earlier,” he said, stating that the contract related to chronic disease management for medical card patients, and also the reversal of public pay cuts.

“These agreements are essentially not your normal type of a contract in terms of a commercial contract, in terms of one particular project, but rather it relates to the general health service and expenditure in the health service. And in my view, it should have been made public much earlier, and in hindsight, that’s the lesson to be learned from this.”

He said such agreement should be published as soon as possible, stating that had this happened in this case it would have averted what has happened.

Rise TD Paul Murphy has written to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) and demanded an investigation into the matter. Murphy has claimed there is “clear evidence” that the Tánaiste breached the Code of Conduct when he was Taoiseach. 

No financial gain

Martin said there was no financial gain for anyone in the sharing of the document, stating “there was no material advantage to any person”.

He added: “It was not best practice, it was not appropriate to do it that way.”

When asked about the role Varadkar might play in the new public service pay deal that is due to be negotiated, Martin said:

“I have no issue there at all, I don’t believe there will be any difficulty in terms of the process around that or any necessary confidentiality around that.”

The Taoiseach said he is not going to preempt what the Tánasite has to say in the Dáil tomorrow. He said he did not engage “in any sort of cross examination” with Varadkar over the weekend.

Martin said Varadkar “was of a mind to go into the Dáil”, adding that they both agreed that was the forum in which deputies should be allowed to ask questions on the matter.

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The Taoiseach conceded today that the essence of the IMO agreement “in terms of the headlines around the restoration of FEMPI cuts around chronic disease management and other aspects” was made public but added: “Obviously the full document at that particular point wasn’t in the public domain domain.”

The Tánaiste is expected to make a statement in the Dáil tomorrow regarding these matters amid criticism from the opposition and concerns from Fine Gael’s coalition partners.

The Green Party has said that Varadkar’s actions were “not appropriate”, while Fianna Fáil TD and Minister for Education Norma Foley said yesterday that a “very frank” statement was needed.

It emerged over the weekend that then-health minister Simon Harris was not aware that Varadkar had shared the document. 

Speaking this morning to RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Harris said the Tánaiste called him over the weekend and he accepts what Varadkar was trying to achieve. However he said he agreed it was not the best way to do it. 

“The appropriate way to carry out these negotiations were between the Department of Health, the HSE and IMO, and when those negotiations were concluded, to consult with broadly with wider stakeholders of which the NAGP would have been one,” he said.

Harris said he did not believe Varadkar was trying to undermine him as Health Minister.

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