Jack Quann
Jack Quann

09.11 2 Nov 2020


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Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said the passing of a confidential document by then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the then-head of the NAGP was 'to keep GPs up to speed'.

She said there was no personal gain in what happened, and no laws were broken.

Mr Varadkar admitted that he provided a copy of an Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) contract to the former president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.

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He also has said that communicating the contract agreement "was not best practice".

However he maintained that there was nothing unlawful about sharing this information, despite questions from the opposition about the timeline of events.

While Dr Ó Tuathail has said that "all GPs had a right" to access information on a programme for chronic disease management, which is at the centre of the controversy.

Minister McEntee told Newstalk Breakfast this approach made sure as many GPs as possible signed up.

"What Government had committed to doing throughout these talks was to keep the NAGP up to speed, informed as to what was happening - because... their GPs would then have to sign up to this or or not.

"But this was an attempt to try and make sure that those who potentially were going to be signing a contract understood what it was, and were able to see it.

"The Tánaiste himself had said the manner in which this was delivered, it could have been done better."

'No personal gain'

On claims he gave the document to a personal friend, Minister McEntee replied: "What relationship is there - other than the political and Matt as president at the time - Matt Ó Tuathail of the NAGP - I don't know.

"That's the question that the Tánaiste I'm sure will answer tomorrow.

"He's giving a statement - and has been very open and very clear that he will answer questions here.

"But what is clear is that you had hundreds of GPs at this stage already - and I saw a text, I think, from one of the IMO council members yesterday saying that at this stage he was submitting articles with deep amount of details to medical newspapers, he was presenting the deal to TDs".

On this, presenter Shane Coleman suggested some elements were being circulated - but not the full document.

Minister McEntee said: "To suggest that there was information that hadn't been seen, say important information that was being circulated - and I've seen this in the last day or two, some of the opposition politicians are suggesting that this document was circulated to try and better or change or give an advantage to somebody else."

"This was agreed by Cabinet before this was given to the NAGP - and at no stage did this document go back to Cabinet for changes or or anything like that.

"So I mean to suggest that there was an agenda here to try and get one up or for somebody, to try and have some personal gain: the only intention here was that Government would get as many GPs to sign up to what was a very good deal that had been negotiated by the IMO.

"And the only people that that benefited were patients or the GPs themselves, and in fact taxpayers who were going to get a good deal from this.

"So the suggestion that there was personal gain here - the only gain here was that we had a very good contract that we as Government wanted as many GPs to sign up to it as possible.

"And at this stage, as I've said, we can see for many members who are saying that this information was widely being circulated".

'There was no breaking of the law'

Asked if Mr Varadkar was wrong, the Minister replied: "I think he himself has said that the manner in which he delivered this could have been done better.

"And the words he used himself was 'It wasn't best practice.'"

Asked about any legal concerns, she said: "My understanding - and I fully agree with this - is that there was no breaking of the law here.

"As I said this was a document that had been agreed, had been published, had been widely circulated and was given to the NAGP to try and make sure that GPs would sign up to this contract.

"But there is no breaking of the law here".

She also said the deal had already been signed off on.

"The deal was agreed.

"And so you had IMO members, and other council members, who were presenting the deal, who were phoning and engaging with hundreds of GPs across the country to try and get them to agree to this.

"So the idea that this deal was not agreed - and that this was not a finalised version - it was published, it was launched, it was approved by Cabinet and you now had GPs been engaged with on this very deal."

It comes as Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly said more clarity is needed on the issue.

Earlier she told Newstalk Breakfast: "It is a serious matter: the document that was shared with one of Leo Varadkar's mates was marked 'confidential, not for circulation.'

"So to me, looking at that I would see 'confidential, not for circulation' as a document that was indeed confidential and not to be circulated among my pals."

"[Dr Ó Tuathail was] a very senior person in a rival organisation, who indeed had a very material interest in getting that documentation, which wasn't in the public domain at the time."

"It's a matter that requires further clarification and questioning. And that's what we're going to be doing on Tuesday."

McEntee: 'No personal gain' in Varadkar passing document to NAGP

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Main image: Justice Minister Helen McEntee launches the O’Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences. Picture by: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

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