The Tánaiste has described an article containing allegations that he leaked a confidential contract agreement between the Government and the Irish Medical Organisation to a rival GP group as "inaccurate and grossly defamatory".
The Village magazine reports today that Leo Varadkar shared a copy of detailed GP contract negotiations with the president of the now-defunct National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) which would have benefitted the IMO's rival organisation.
The leak is alleged to have happened in 2019 when Mr Varadkar was Taoiseach.
In a statement this afternoon, the Minister for Enterprise said he had sought legal advice on the content of the article.
He admitted that he provided a copy of the IMO contract to the NAGP and added that communicating the contract agreement to the NAGP "was not best practice".
He said that the agreement on GP contracts was negotiated by the Department of Health, the HSE and the Irish Medical Organisation and was publicly announced by the IMO on April 5th.
Subsequently, on April 6th, the agreement was announced by the HSE and welcomed by the then-Taoiseach and the Minister for Health.
Therefore, the information was in the public domain and "not something that was confidential or sensitive" after April 6th.
Mr Varadkar then states that a copy of the agreement to the then head of the NAGP Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail "on a date" between April 11th and 16th.
The statement continues: "The provision of a copy the Agreement to Dr Ó Tuathail, in his capacity as President of the NAGP occurred in circumstances where the legitimate objective of this action was to encourage acceptance of the Agreement amongst the General Practitioner community.
"The entire purpose of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health issuing a Press Release on 6 April 2019 was to advance precisely the same objective.
"The Tánaiste accepts that the provision of the Agreement by an informal communication channel to the President of the NAGP was not best practice and he regrets that he did not ensure that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner.
"There was however, nothing in any way unlawful about the provision of the Agreement to the President of the NAGP."
Very lengthy statement in from Leo Varadkar calling the Village article “inaccurate and grossly defamatory”. Here’s some of what it says. Tánaiste seeking legal advice pic.twitter.com/qWD3UDslCz
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) October 31, 2020
Two Fianna Fáil TDs have spoken out against Mr Varadkar, calling for him to comment on the allegations.
Jim O'Callaghan, a coalition backbencher, said the magazine report included "a serious and specific allegation...about the disclosure of a confidential government document" and said the Tánaiste should make a statement clarifying the situation.
Marc McSharry added that "the troubling content" of the article "is a matter of concern" and that they are "serious accusations which must be addressed".
There had been increasing calls from opposition parties for the Tánaiste to answer questions about the alleged leak.
Sinn Féin Enterprise Spokesperson Louise O'Reilly said it was "an extremely serious situation" and that "this isn’t tittle-tattle or indiscretion".
She said that the alleged disclosure of "commercially sensitive information to a personal friend who was a senior member of a rival organisation to the one that the government was in negotiations with" was "information that could have been of financial benefit to this rival organisation".
She added: “There are laws in place to stop such insider dealing from happening.
“If he has done it in this case, how many other times could this have happened and at what cost to the taxpayer?
“The old boys network that runs this state needs to be broken up once and for all."
Leo Varadkar has questions to answer - @loreillysf
"The allegation is that, while Taoiseach, Varadkar disclosed commercially sensitive information to a member of a rival organisation to the one government was in talks with on a contract worth millions."https://t.co/cPjnPRYeFG pic.twitter.com/U9zMGlSXFI
— Sinn Féin (@sinnfeinireland) October 31, 2020
RISE TD Paul Murphy said that if the allegations are true, it would amount to "a serious criminal offence".
He said: "His [alleged] leaking of confidential information available to him in his role as Taoiseach to a personal associate who stood to benefit from that information would represent a breach of the Criminal Offences (Corruption Offences) Act 2018.
"As indicated by The Village article it may also constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act, 1963.
"It would also be a clear breach of the Code of Conduct for Office Holders which requires the ‘highest ethical standards’ as well as the Code of Conduct for Members.
“We will be writing to the Business Committee to request that time is set aside on Tuesday in the Dáil for Leo Varadkar to make a statement about this matter and to answer questions about it from TDs.
"Any attempt by Fine Gael or their government partners to shield him from such questioning would make them complicit and confirm people’s perceptions about a political culture of insiders looking after insiders.
Mr Murphy said that "if there is substance to the allegations, he should face criminal prosecution" and that "it would not be tenable for Mr Varadkar to continue as a Minister, nevermind as the Tánaiste”.
Co-leader of the Social Democrats Róisín Shortall said the party was extremely concerned about the allegations and called on Mr Varadkar to make a statement.
She said: “In view of the import of these allegations we’re calling on the Tanáiste to make an immediate public statement on the veracity of these allegations.”
The Labour party’s Enterprise spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said Mr Varadkar "must make a statement in the Dáil on Tuesday and answer questions about the report".
He added: “The Minister for Enterprise must clarify and confirm whether what is reported happened.
“This would be a serious breach of the Code of Conduct for Officeholders and potentially of other laws.
“Significantly such an act could have exposed the State to a claim for damages.”