The Tánaiste has apologised in the Dáil for "errors of judgement" after he gave a copy of a contract negotiated between the Government and the Irish Medical Organisation to rival GP group, the National Association of General Practitioners, in April last year.
Tonight, a spokesperson for the Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, said he regarded the issue as having been "dealt with" today.
Fine Gael's fellow coalition partners the Green Party said in a statement it was "important that lessons are learned and put into practice in how this new Government does its business".
Leo Varadkar told the Dáil the suggestion that he had anything to gain personally from giving the IMO document to the NAGP president was "false and deeply offensive".
He said he had "unfinished business" in health and he wanted to use his influence in the office of Taoiseach to secure a new and better contract for GPs.
.@LeoVaradkar says he took an "active and personal" role in GP contract talks and "kept in personal contact with a number of GPs who were opinion leaders" during the process | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/Q9YpLooj0v— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Mr Varadkar said he took an active and personal interest in talks and was determined to get the deal done.
He said all the details of the deal with the IMO were in the public domain before 6 April 2019.
The Tánaiste said he posted a copy of the document to NAGP president Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail from 11-16 April 2019, most likely the 15th.
The Tánaiste said there is nothing inappropriate about having informal contacts, with business people for example.
"It was an error and one I accept sole responsibility for"— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
.@LeoVaradkar apologises in the Dáil for the "controversy and annoyance" that his actions have caused | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/jE1oUM5Fgc
He told the Dáil he is always willing to help people but never gives special advantage to anyone.
Mr Varadkar said that giving the GP contract to the president of the NAGP by informal communication was not good practice. He said it was an "error" and one he accepted sole responsibility for.
He said he regretted it and was "sorry for the controversy and the annoyance that his actions have caused".
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Mr Varadkar told Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty that he gave the document to Dr Ó Tuathail on a confidential basis to see if they could get the NAGP on side.
.@PearseDoherty asks the Tánaiste to outline what engagement there was with the NAGP throughout the process. @LeoVaradkar says the NAGP have stated there were monthly meetings, but Dept of Health says otherwise, adding if so, none of them involved him | https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/EMBDyLovzF— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Mr Varadkar said he has lots of GP friends and still does. He said he only gave the document to Dr Ó Tuathail because he was NAGP president and "not just because he was his friend".
Mr Doherty said "this is favour for friends" and he "doesn't buy his analysis on it".
He asked if the copy of the document given to Dr Ó Tuathail was the original or a copy and if Dr Ó Tuathail asked for the document or if Mr Varadkar just gave it to him.
Mr Varadkar said he got the document from the Department of Health, he copied it and kept a copy for himself and posted one to Dr Ó Tuathail.
He said Dr Ó Tuathail had requested a copy of the document.
"You were the head of Government, this is old boys club, this is not something you just apologise for"— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
.@PearseDoherty says @LeoVaradkar actions were "unacceptable" and he doesn't accept his explanation | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/5jBBJlsRsD
Mr Varadkar told Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin he had contact with Dr Ó Tuathail three times since the story broke at the weekend.
Mr Varadkar said he had wanted to check what date he sent the document to the NAGP president.
He said his PA posted the document to Dr Ó Tuathail but doubts she read it.
Mr Ó Ríordáin asked why Dr Ó Tuathail said "Leo always delivers". The Tánaiste said that Dr Ó Tuathail made out that he was closer to him than he actually was.
Responding to Labour's @AodhanORiordain, Tánaiste @LeoVaradkar says he has had contact with Dr O’Tuathail three times since the story broke at the weekend | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/cyeTrWEhdE— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Mr Varadkar said that he shared the document with Dr Ó Tuathail in confidence because the deal had been done and approved by Cabinet.
He said he wanted to ensure that it would get maximum support from the GP community.
However, Mr Ó Ríordáin said there was a million and one holes in the Tánaiste's story.
"There are friends, and there are friends, we're not close friends"— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Responding to @AodhanORiordain, @LeoVaradkar says he made contact with Dr O’Tuathail in order to try and check the date he sent the document on, adding that they are not "best mates" |
Mr Varadkar's address to the Dáil was delayed following a brief adjournment earlier this afternoon.
Taking questions after his statement, he told Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy that he would have given the document through official channels if he was doing it again.
The Tánaiste said the objective was to mollify any opposition to it.
He said it was not shared widely among the NAGP membership and was not put out in the public domain.
.@CathMurphyTD asks @LeoVaradkar what the consequences would be if a Department official had done the same thing? He says an official would only do so if instructed, and agrees that if they did so when not directed to, there would be consequences | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/ytvvtvd4rW— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Ms Murphy said the document was confidential and not for circulation and that the document was still not concluded when he sent it to the NAGP president.
The Tánaiste has said that he has not decided if he will sue the Village Magazine over the article published about the leak at the weekend.
He was responding to Socialist TD Paul Murphy, who asked Mr Varadkar if he would sue the magazine over the article.
Responding to @paulmurphy_TD, Tánaiste @LeoVaradkar says that no matter who the head of the NAGP was at the time, they would have received the document | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/HFlLIp4JSd— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Mr Murphy asked if Leo Varadkar would have been in trouble with the IMO if they knew he was giving this material.
Mr Varadkar said he did not know about trouble but he thought they would have been annoyed.
When taking questions from Irish Solidarity-People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett, Mr Varadkar said when you are Taoiseach you are the head of government and you do intervene in different issues.
Responding to @RBoydBarrett, Tánaiste @LeoVaradkar says when you are Taoiseach, you are head of Government, and from time to time you do personally intervene in some issues | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/zgXAp74Zts— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Aontú's Peadar Tóibín said it was a secret document at the time when it was posted.
Mr Varadkar said that to his knowledge he did not send a cover letter with the document to Dr Ó Tuathail.
He told the Dáil he has never leaked confidential Cabinet information "at this level" but said "there isn't a deputy in this house that hasn't spoke to journalists off the record".
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he was surprised by the Tánaiste's answers.
Mr McGrath said he believes Dr Ó Tuathail was using the Tánaiste as "a puppet" and questioned the photo of himself and Dr Ó Tuathail that was published in the Village Magazine.
Mr Varadkar said "we all know the innuendo is here and it's not true".
The Tánaiste said he does not remember when he made an error of judgement, when asked by Independent TD Catherine Connolly.
Mr Varadkar said he did not think about sending the document for "months and months" after.
.@catherinegalway asks @LeoVaradkar when did he realise he made an error of judgement. The Tánaiste replies "I don't know", adding that he didn’t think about it for months | More: https://t.co/o3hr6Ivdan pic.twitter.com/6Up39FVyyU— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 3, 2020
Ms Connolly said he clearly did not think about the matter until the weekend.
Greens release statement following Varadkar Dáil address
The Green Party has released a statement saying it welcomes the Tánaiste's acknowledgement that "what happened was not right and his apology for this error of judgement".
The party said it was "necessary that he addressed the house and answered questions on what is a serious matter ... the disclosure of information in this way was not correct and should not be repeated".
The statement concluded: "It is important that lessons are learned and put into practice in how this new Government does its business."
Additional reporting: Mícheál Lehane