Monday 21 October 2019

Taoiseach under fire over 'oil lobbying' meeting between key advisor and former government official turned lobbyist

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith
John Downing

John Downing

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has dismissed suggestions of improper behaviour over a meeting between his key adviser and a former government press secretary who was lobbying for the oil exploration sector.

There were unruly Dáil scenes as the deputy chairman, Pat The Cope Gallagher, insisted that Deputy Bríd Smith from People Before Profit withdraw allegations that Mr Varadkar was engaged in “deliberate lying.”

Ms Smith challenged the Government refusal to accept a draft law which would ban further oil and gas exploration in seas off Ireland as part of anti-climate change measures.  The Government said the measure was not acceptable because it involved the spending of taxpayers’ money.

The Dublin South Central TD said the Taoiseach had told “deliberate lies” to 15,000 students about commitment to combat climate change.  The Leas Cheann-Comhairle, Mr Gallagher, then intervened citing Dáil rules, and a prolonged row ensued before Ms Smith agreed to withdraw that allegation.

Ms Smith then asked about a meeting between the Taoiseach’s key adviser and the former Fine Gael government press secretary, Fergal Purcell.  The Taoiseach said the pair met for coffee and then Mr Purcell raised the issue of a potential ban on offshore oil and gas exploration.

Former government press secretary Feargal Purcell;

The TD suggested that, given remarks by those Taoiseach, Mr Purcell’s account of the meeting was “either wrong or untrue.” Mr Purcell had registered the meeting as a lobbying meeting – but the Taoiseach’s adviser, John Carroll, had made no record of the encounter.

“That’s not a cup of coffee. He (Mr Purcell) registered it on the register of lobbying because he saw it as lobbying. Why did your office not see it as lobbying?”  Ms Smith asked.

“Clearly somebody is telling something that’s not correct,” the People Before Profit TD added, following more strong interventions from the deputy chairman about improper language.

The Taoiseach said his key adviser had met the former government press secretary on May 2 of this year for a cup of coffee. “I don’t know how long it lasted, or what it cost, or who paid for the cofffee,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach said his official made no record because the meeting happened outside of Government Buildings. He said where lobbying occurs, the reporting obligation is on the lobbyist, not on the person being lobbied.

Mr Varadkar said every politician is lobbied in various forms pretty much every day. He told Ms Smith that it was the Ceann Comhairle – not the Government – made the ruling about disallowing legislation due spending of public money.

But the Taoiseach said the Government rejected a ban on gas and oil exploration because it was not part of the Paris climate agreement, and risked leaving Ireland energy supplies costing jobs.

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