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Former GP chief ‘was not a close friend’ — Tánaiste accuses Dr Maitiú Ó’Tuathail of ‘over-egging’ friendship


Leak: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar leaving Dublin Castle yesterday after attending a Cabinet meeting.Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Leak: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar leaving Dublin Castle yesterday after attending a Cabinet meeting.Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Leak: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar leaving Dublin Castle yesterday after attending a Cabinet meeting.Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has accused the former president of the National Association of General Practitioners of “over-egging” their friendship as he defended leaking a confidential GP contract to him.

Mr Varadkar said a “big part” of the controversy was Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail wrongly suggesting he has “special access” to the then Taoiseach.

The Fine Gael leader said the well-known GP is a “friend but not a close friend”, adding he is someone who “made out to various people that he was closer to me than he was”.

During an almost two-hour Dáil grilling, Mr Varadkar apologised for “an error of judgment”, but stuck rigidly to the defence that his sole motivation was “what was best for general practice and for patients and for the public”.

His performance appears to have done enough to ensure continued backing from the hierarchies in Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, although some government backbenchers remain unconvinced.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Taoiseach Micheál Martin of giving his deputy “a clean bill of health”. “You have said these are matters of not best practice. Weasel words if ever I heard them,” she said.

A raft of new text messages from Dr Ó Tuathail were read into the Dáil record as Opposition TDs attempted to pile the pressure on Mr Varadkar.

In one message the GP said: “Leo constantly pulling strings for me – you’ve no idea,” before adding that he did not want to “f**k that up”.

In another exchange, Mr Varadkar told Dr Ó Tuathail there may be “some changes” made to the leaked GP contract “so don’t take it as gospel”.

The Tánaiste dismissed the messages, but did reveal he spoke to Dr Ó Tuathail on three occasions since details of their texts first emerged in Village Magazine.

Mr Varadkar said Dr Ó Tuathail asked over the weekend if the NAGP should put out a statement, but it was not for him to “advise or direct” the NAGP on the situation.

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In his opening address, Mr Varadkar said he was “sorry for the controversy and annoyance” that his actions caused to members of the medical profession, the Irish Medical Organisation and his colleagues in Government.

However, he insisted his motivation was to ensure as many GPs as possible signed up to a new contract which would see them receive better pay for their work while more services were to be extended to the public.

He said the last government was under pressure from the Opposition at the time to negotiate with the NAGP and had committed to involving them in the process of negotiating a new contract.

Mr Varadkar admitted he told no one else he was sending the document to Dr Ó Tuathail’s home address days after it was agreed with the IMO. He insisted much of the detail in the contract was in the public domain at the time and said he sent it to the NAGP president in the hope he could get his members on side.

The Tánaiste said while Dr Ó Tuathail was a friend, he had also organised a GP protest outside Leinster House where doctors criticised Fine Gael’s health policies.

He was also forced to hit out at “innuendo” about his friendship with the GP after Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath suggested a photograph of Mr Varadkar and Dr Ó Tuathail at the Gay Pride Parade in 2019 was evidence they were “very close contacts”.

After the debate, the Green Party issued a statement welcoming Mr Varadkar’s “apology for his error in judgment”.

“ The disclosure of information in this way was not correct and should not be repeated ,” the party said.

“It is important that lessons are learned and put into practic e in how this new government does its business.” they added.

Senior Fianna Fáil sources also said the party was happy with Mr Varadkar’s performance. However, Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan tweeted after the debate:

“ Every politician knows it’s wrong for a minister to send a government document with ‘Confidential Not For Circulation’ printed in big letters on its front page to someone not authorised to receive it.

" Let’s not demean ourselves by pretending otherwise,” Mr O’Callaghan added.

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