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Fianna Fáil TD says there are inconsistencies in Varadkar's statement, but adds he shouldn't resign

The Tánaiste was grilled about what motivated him to send the document Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail of the NAGP.

Image: Eamonn Farrell

Updated Nov 4th 2020, 12:40 PM

AFTER TWO HOURS of back and forth between Leo Varadkar and the Opposition last night, those in government circles believe enough was said by the Tánaiste for him to scrape through the GP contract controversy.

Despite senior Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan outlining inconsistencies in Varadkar’s statement this morning, he added that Varadkar’s resignation as Tánaiste and Business minister would be “bad for the country”.

Varadkar apologised in the Dáil for “errors of judgement” after he gave a copy of an agreement negotiated between the Government and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to a rival GP group last year.

The Tánaiste was grilled about what motivated him to send the document to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail of the NAGP – someone Varadkar said is a friend but “not a close friend”.

He was also questioned about that friendship and the timeline of their contacts – whether he had been in touch with Ó Tuathail since the story broke in the Village magazine on Saturday, and if he had ever leaked a confidential report before. 

Those in his own party were out to bat for him last night, telling reporters the Tánaiste had answered questions on the matter and could move on. The Tánaiste’s statement and subsequent answers also appeased the concerns of the Green Party. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Green Party said it noted the Tánaiste’s statement in the Dáil, adding: 

“It was necessary that he addressed the house and answered questions on what is a serious matter. We welcome his acknowledgement that what happened was not right and his apology for this error of judgement.

“The disclosure of information in this way was not correct and should not be repeated.

“It is important that lessons are learned and put into practice in how this new government does its business.”

Sources within the party say it will not take the matter any further. 

‘He hasn’t dealt with it satisfactorily – but he shouldn’t resign’

While the Taoiseach said he had confidence in the Tánaiste earlier this week, some within the Fianna Fáil party are not so convinced by last night’s performance.

In a pointed tweet sent last night, TD Jim O’Callaghan said:

Jim O'C Source: Twitter

Speaking on the Today with Claire Byrne programme, O’Callaghan expanded on those comments and said that the Tánaiste didn’t deal with the issue “particularly satisfactorily”.

This isn’t a complicated political issue. The issue is that a government document that was marked ‘confidential, not for circulation’ was circulated by the Tánaiste to a person not authorized to receive it. That’s the central and only issue.

When asked whether he believed the Tánaiste’s statement to the Dáil, O’Callaghan said “I didn’t say I don’t believe him, I think he has constructed a very complicated and contorted narrative”, and that his motivation is “irrelevant”. 

He said that Fine Gael ministers who had defended their party leader Varadlar did so on “very precarious, and on sustainable grounds”.

On a day such as today, I don’t think we should sit back and accept a contorted political narrative for the sake of political convenience.

“I think the Tánaiste is a straight talker. He has admitted and he’s apologised for the controversy his actions have caused, he’s admitted it’s not best practice, he said it was the wrong way to do this. But I think he would have solved issues for himself, he simply said, ‘I disclosed a confidential document, I shouldn’t have done that, I was wrong’.”

O’Callaghan outlined some of the inconsistencies in Varadkar’s statement:

For instance, he told the Dáil yesterday that he asked the Department of Health for the document. Why didn’t he just ask the Department of Health to send it out to the NAGP and Dr Ó Tuathail?
Why wasn’t it emailed, we live in an age where documents are emailed? Why was there no cover letter with it? Why was it sent to the home address? Why was part of the front page redacted?

He added that he didn’t see this as an “Agatha Christie issue where we’re trying to find out everything. I regard it as a political issue”. 

Others within the party believe that the explanations given last night will suffice, but said Fianna Fáil’s support is very much on the back of warnings that this event should “put some manners on him”. 

One Fianna Fáil member asked if it is now the case that there are different standards depending on who the protagonists involved are, stating that government cannot preside over one rule for some, and no rules for others.

‘A short cut’

In last night’s Dáil session, Varadkar said he sent the document to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail of the NAGP on “most likely the 15th or 16th” of April 2019.

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He said he sent it on a “confidential basis”, believing that publication of the agreement was imminent. Varadkar said he should have called the NAGP in for a briefing and gone through the document line by line, instead of passing it on in an informal manner.

“That’s the way it should have been done, I didn’t do it that way,” said Varadkar, adding he knew sending it in the post to Ó Tuathail “was a short cut”.

Following last night’s debate, Rise TD Paul Murphy said “it’s time for Leo Varadkar to resign”. The TD has reported the matters to the Standard in Public Office (Sipo) to investigate if he has breached the code of conduct for office holders.

Whether Varadkar is out of the woods will depend if any further revelations emerge, but most in government circles believe the Tánaiste will cling on with the support of his coalition partners.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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