Pressure is mounting on Tánaiste Leo Varadkar in the wake of explosive allegations published in Village Magazine at the weekend. Not for the first time, the hashtag #LeoTheLeak was trending on social media. Opposition parties have been stepping up the pressure since Mr Varadkar made a statement on Saturday.
What’s it all about this time?
According to revelations in Village Magazine, Mr Varadkar passed confidential information about a draft deal that had been done between the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the government in April 2019. The deal concerned fees for GPs.
Leo Varadkar, who was Taoiseach at the time, was great mates with one Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail. We don’t know if they’re still bestos after the weekend. Dr Ó Tuathail, at the time, headed up a rival group to the IMO, called the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).
The agreement between the IMO and the government was highly confidential as it was still at draft stage. Stephen Donnelly (now Minister for Health), then Fíanna Fáil spokesperson on health, said he had no details of the agreement.
Mr Varadkar had the highly confidential draft agreement couriered to his friend’s house. Village Magazine contends that what the then Taoiseach did was possibly illegal. Mr Varadkar contends that Village Magazine’s article is defamatory.*
Who’s putting pressure on?
Just about everyone who isn’t in Fine Gael. Sinn Féin health spokseman David Cullinane said, “What he was doing was looking after a friend – the old boys’ club, looking after the insiders.” Mr Cullinane called it “a scandal”.
The Labour Party’s enterprise spokesperson Aodhán Ó Riordáin, speaking on RTÉ, said that he wants a full explanation from Mr Varadkar as to why he stepped into a process with which he had no involvement. Mr Varadkar needs to explain why he handed over a confidential document to a friend. Mr Ó Riordáin said he wants to know whether Leo Vardkar has done this kind of thing before or since.
Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shorthall said that there were “a lot of outstanding questions” that needed to be answered. Ms Shorthall said, “the situation is not exactly how he outlined it in his statement on Saturday”.
And social media is still awash with the #LeoTheLeak hashtag.
What did Leo Varadkar say in his statement on Saturday?
He denied that he had broken the law. In fact, he said, he passed on the confidential info to his mate because he wanted to get the widest possible backing for the deal from GPs. So, according to the then Taoiseach, his leaking of a confidential government document to his friend was a noble act.
Mr Varadkar accepted that is couriering over a government document to his friend was “not best practice”. He said that he regretted the fact that he did not ensure “that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner”.
Shoddy behaviour from Varadkar but was it illegal?
Whether this was actually illegal or not will hinge on dates and who knew what and when.
The Official Secrets Act 1963 states that it is a criminal offence for persons who hold public office to disclose secret official information. At the start of the act it clearly says, however, that holding “public office” does not include TDs or senators.
What amounts to secret official information is well-defined in the Act. It states any infomration or document that is “expressed to be” secret or confidential. The document leaked by Mr Vardkar had the word “Confidential” all over it.
Mr Vradkar is due to be questioned in the Dáil tomorrow, Tuesday, about the affair. We await his answers expectantly.
*It’s only defamatory if it isn’t true.