Monday 18 December 2017

Nora Owen: Varadkar must come clean on departure from health ministry

Exclusive: Former Justice Minister 'very surprised' Varadkar turned down job

 Former Justice Minister Nora Owen
 Former Justice Minister Nora Owen
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

A former Fine Gael Justice Minister has called on Leo Varadkar to publicly disclose the details surrounding his departure from health.

Nora Owen said it is important that Mr Varadkar clarifies whether he was given the opportunity by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to remain in the portfolio at the Cabinet reshuffle in May 2016.

Ms Owen told Independent.ie she was "very surprised" when she heard Mr Varadkar say at the leadership hustings in Dublin that he had "unfinished business" in the Department of Health.

"Was he offered the chance to remain there? Did he ask the Taoiseach if he could stay in health?  He needs to answer these questions : 'yes' or 'no'."

Leo Varadkar Photo: Tom Burke
Leo Varadkar Photo: Tom Burke

The Irish Independent revealed on Monday that Mr Kenny was left scrambling to find a new health minister following a discussion about the portfolio with Mr Varadkar.

It's understood Mr Varadkar raised serious concerns about the health budget and that Mr Kenny was left with the impression that he didn't want to remain in the post.

Mr Varadkar, the Social Protection Minister, tried to downplay the controversy in a number of interviews with local radio on Monday.

He said he would not "divulge" details of a private conversation with Mr Kenny and that he believed the story was leaked to the Irish Independent in a bid to damage.

"It says a lot about that person (who allegedly leaked the information," Mr Varadkar told Shannonside radio.

Mr Varadkar said the story did not reflect the "whole truth".

But the remarks by Ms Owen, who is backing Simon Coveney for the leadership, will put Mr Varadkar under fresh pressure.

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