New information raises fresh controversy over Leo Varadkar's leaking of confidential file

New correspondence, released under Freedom of Information to Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty, shows that repeated requests for a copy of the document for then-Minister for Health Simon Harris were rebuffed.
New information raises fresh controversy over Leo Varadkar's leaking of confidential file

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had confirmed in the Dáil on November 3 last year, that he shared a copy of the document with his friend Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, the leader of the National Association of General Practitioners between April 11-16, 2019. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin urging him to act after it emerged that Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was able to get a copy of the GP contract he leaked to a friend while the Minister of Health had been refused.

New correspondence, released under Freedom of Information to Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty, shows that repeated requests for a copy of the document for then-Minister for Health Simon Harris were rebuffed.

Ms McDonald's letter claims that Mr Varadkar's defence had been "undermined" by the latest revelations.

"Serious questions now arise as to how the Tánaiste got the document. Who provided the document to the Tánaiste (then Taoiseach)? How was it received? Why are there no records of the request for, or the sending of the document in the Department of Health or in the office of An Taoiseach?

"The documents also raise questions regarding the intervention of Minister Simon Harris TD during the Dáil debate on 3 November 2020. Minister Harris said he was intervening in order to, 'clarify the record of the House'. During his contribution he stated, 'The only inquiries I ever made were about when we would be ready to publish the contract on the Department of Health’s website'.

"We now know that this is not true. The Dáil was misled. On the 15 April 2019, the Minister’s Special Adviser contacted officials in the Department of Health requesting a copy of the document for the Minister. 

"This request was refused. Two days later the Minister sent an e-mail to his Private Secretary again requesting a copy of the 130-page document.

"Taoiseach, I believe that these are matters of considerable public interest and disquiet and it is essential that you inform the Dáil as to how you intend to deal with the matter."

The Department had been locked in negotiations over a new pay contract for GPs and only one union, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), were in talks with the Government.

On April 15, 2019, Eugene Lennon, Principal Officer in the GP Services GMS Contract Unit, replied to Sarah Bardon, advisor to Simon Harris, that "the Agreement document has not yet been finalised" and the request was refused.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed in the Dáil on November 3 last year, that he shared a copy of the document with his friend Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, the leader of the National Association of General Practitioners between April 11-16, 2019.

The NAGP was a rival group to the IMO and were not part of the contract talks.

On the April 17, Simon Harris' office again urgently requested a copy of the document in order to make a speech in the Dáil, however, Mr Harris' private secretary, Matthew O’Gorman was told by Fergal Goodman, Assistant Secretary at the Department of Health: "This will actually be the first properly presented version of the document, as up to now there has been a working document for the purposes of negotiation".

By then Dr Ó Tuathail had already received his copy of the document and had shared it with his fellow members.

In the Executive Summary of Submission submitted to Simon Harris for review on April 25, Eugene Lennon wrote: "On 24 April the latest version of the Agreement was emailed to the IMO. The IMO was asked to indicate whether it is agreeable to this text. It is quite likely that the IMO will seek some textual changes.

"The IMO CEO was in contact today and said that the IMO will not be in a position to respond formally until after its AGM.

"She indicated that it would be very problematic for a draft agreement document to be published by one of the parties before it has been signed off by the IMO… The parties to the Agreement are the Department, the HSE and the IMO.

Unilateral publication of the Agreement in the absence of confirmation from the IMO that it is satisfied with the final text would represent a serious breach of trust.

Pearse Doherty says that Leo Varadkar needs to explain how he was able to get his hands on a copy of the contract in April 2019 when there exists no records of any requests or correspondence to this effect in the Department of Health.

"This scandal goes far deeper than we thought. It goes beyond favours for friends and the old boys' network, and tears apart Leo Varadkar’s defence of his actions in November when this issue came to light," he said.

Leo Varadkar needs to explain how he was able to get his hands on a confidential document and provide it to his friend, when it is clear from records released to me that this contract was so confidential that the Minister for Health was not able to get a copy of it.

"It is staggering that the Minister with responsibility for these negotiations was not able to get this contract at a time when the then-Taoiseach was providing it to his friend - the head of a rival GP organisation to the IMO."

A spokesman for the Tánaiste said that Mr Varadkar did not have the updated copy that Minister Harris was seeking at the later date.

"As the Tánaiste explained to the Dáil in November, he received a copy of the agreement made with the IMO from the Minister for Health around April 4th or 5th. This was the agreement which was publicly referenced at the time by the IMO, the HSE, the then-Taoiseach and the Minister, and is the version which was given to Matt Ó Tuathail.

"In the period following the public announcement of the deal, there were further discussions between the HSE and the IMO which resulted in some minor changes. Our understanding is that the Minister was looking for an up-to-date copy following Dail exchanges in mid-April."

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