A Junior Minister has admitted the Tánaiste Leo Varadkar could have "done better" in communicating the details of an Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) GP contract agreement to another group.
As reported in the Village Magazine, Leo Varadkar passed the document on to the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) in April 2019, however, he insists it was after the details had been published.
He has also maintained that there was nothing unlawful about sharing this information, despite questions from the opposition about the timeline of events.
Fine Gael Junior Minister Colm Brophy admits the lines of communication were not best practice but was done to get as many GPs in agreement with the deal as possible.
Minister Brophy said: "It probably could have been done better in terms of communicating out.
"But the process of communicating out what was widely known from the 5-6 April in terms of the deal is that you want as many GPs on board as possible.
"That's the way regulations govern the way in which GPs work, they work as independent contractors.
"You want as many of them as possible to be on board and to accept and to be working this deal," he said.
Meanwhile, the Green Party has said it is clear Leo Varadkar's decision to pass on 'sensitive information' to the National Association of General Practitioners was not appropriate.
The party is calling on the Tánaiste to give a full and detailed account to the Dáil on the issue and to allow sufficient time for the statement followed by questioning.
In a statement, the party said: "It is clear from what has been revealed that the passing on of sensitive information in this manner was not appropriate.
"The timelines and the full impact of the disclosure on all involved needs further scrutiny."
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also believes Mr Varadkar's sharing of a draft deal was inappropriate and not best practice, senior government sources have told the Irish Examiner.
However, Mr Varadkar has dismissed a report in Village Magazine concerning his time as Taoiseach as being “both inaccurate and grossly defamatory”.
He said he has sought legal advice on the content of the article, which alleged he had broken laws in providing a copy of a revised general practitioner contract to the then head of a GP union, the NAGP, in April 2019.
Mr Varadkar acknowledged that he provided the copy to then NAGP head, Maitiú Ó Tuathail, but said that the document provided “was not something that was confidential or sensitive after April 6, 2019”.
A spokesperson for Micheál Martin said: "The Taoiseach and Tánaiste spoke a number of times today.
"The Tánaiste will be making a statement in the Dáil next week and will also answer questions that he is asked by members."
Mr Varadkar firmly rejected any suggestion he may have breached the Official Secrets Acts when he shared the draft contract with the Irish Medical Organisation with the NAGP.
He insists the nature of the agreement had already been released publicly by the IMO, the chief negotiators, in a statement on April 5, and was followed up by similar releases by both the HSE and the then Taoiseach himself and the Minister for Health the following day.
“Thus, the fact that an Agreement had been reached, and the nature of that Agreement was not something that was confidential or sensitive after 6 April 2019. On the contrary, this information was in the public domain,” Mr Varadkar said.
In his statement, the Tánaiste acknowledged that providing the contract copy in this manner was not best practice and stated that he regretted that it had not been provided in a more appropriately formal manner.
Mr Varadkar said he had provided Mr Ó Tuathail with a copy of the contract on a date between April 11 and April 16 of that year.
He said that the provision of the agreement to the NAGP “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”.
Mr Varadkar said that in giving Mr Ó Tuathail the document he was following a “legitimate objective” of encouraging “acceptance of the Agreement amongst the General Practitioner community”.
The Tánaiste further rebutted at length suggestions by Village Magazine that he had in any way broken the law by furnishing Mr Ó Tuathail with the contract document.
Mr Varadkar’s statement came after all the larger opposition parties in the Dáil, and some Fianna Fáil TDs, had called for him to clarify the allegations stemming from the Village article.
Earlier, Sinn Féin business spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said that Leo Varadkar had “serious questions to answer".
“This is an extremely serious situation and the Fine Gael leader needs to make a full statement on the matter immediately,” Ms O’Reilly said.
Labour’s Enterprise spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said: "The Minister for Enterprise must clarify and confirm whether what is reported happened.
Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan likewise called on the Taoiseach to make a statement on the matter, describing the story from this morning as involving a “serious and specific allegation”.
There is a serious and specific allegation in @VillageMagIRE about the disclosure of a confidential government document. The Tánaiste should make a statement responding to the allegation and clarifying the situation.— Jim O'Callaghan (@OCallaghanJim) October 31, 2020
“The Tánaiste should make a statement responding to the allegation and clarifying the situation,” Mr O’Callaghan said via his Twitter account.
Meanwhile, co-leader of the Social Democrats Roisin Shortall also called for Mr Varadkar to make a statement on the matter.
“In view of the import of these allegations we’re calling on the Tánaiste to make an immediate public statement on the veracity of these allegations,” she said.