By Paul Murphy TD (for Village Magazine)
Leo Varadkar is either a liar or a very unlucky man.
According to what he told the Dáil on Tuesday, the only time he ever leaked a confidential document was the time it ended up in Village magazine.
After throwing Maitiú Ó’Tuathail under the metaphorical bus and repeatedly reversing over him in the Dáil on Tuesday, Varadkar is looking like he might somehow get away with it. The narrative pushed by government TDs – that he is damaged but will continue as Tánaiste – was echoed in the Irish Times front page headline: “Varadkar survives Dáil interrogation”.
If he does, it will be a scandal no less outrageous than Varadkar’s leaking. A scandal perpetrated not just by Fine Gael, but by Fianna Fáil and the Greens as well, who have all colluded to cover up for him.
The facts of this scandal are so remarkably simple that it is almost impressive how Varadkar and Martin and their supporters managed to make it appear complicated. Varadkar spent his speech on Tuesday talking about his deep passion for healthcare, the importance of the GP contract and presented his leaking as “honouring a political commitment previously made by the Government”!
The truth is this. Varadkar leaked a confidential document to a personal friend and political supporter. That document was the almost finalised GP contract being negotiated between the government and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO). His friend, Maitiú Ó Tuathail, was the President of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), a rival organisation to the IMO.
What is important, in terms of the relevant Codes of Conduct and the Corruption Offences Act, is firstly, that the leaked document was confidential and secondly, that there was a potential gain or advantage conferred on the recipient of the document. In the Dáil on Tuesday Varadkar tried to squirm away from the reality of both points.
However, he was forced to accept that it was a “confidential document” (his words) and that if the IMO knew he had given this document to Dr. Ó Tuathail, “certainly it would have been annoyed”. Why would they be annoyed? Because he was breaching their confidence!
He tried to maintain that there was no advantage conferred on Dr Ó Tuathail. That is laughable considering the communication between leading NAGP figures about the information. Ó Tuathail’s reputation among them was clearly enhanced. They also clearly considered this information as conferring an advantage on the NAGP, given that they talked about using the information to “steal their [the IMO’s] thunder”.
All of this means, as I have complained to the Standards In Public Office Commission, that Varadkar was clearly in breach of the Code of Conduct for TDs and the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. These require office holders to “respect confidences entrusted to them in the course of their official duties” and state that TDs “must not use official information which is not in the public domain, or information obtained in confidence in the course of their official duties, for personal gain or the personal gain of others”.
It also means that there is a strong argument that Varadkar is in breach of both the Official Secrets Act and the Corruption Offences Act, which I understand Chay Bowes is complaining to the Garda about. In particular, I think he may be in breach of Section 7(2) of the Corruption Act which sets out:
“An Irish official who uses confidential information obtained in the course of his or her office, employment, position or business for the purpose of corruptly obtaining a gift,consideration or advantage for himself or herself or for any other person shall be guilty of an offence”.
Varadkar’s repetition in the Dáil that the Official Secrets Act simply does not apply to him is deeply concerning. Equally worrying is the fact that this completely incorrect interpretation of the law was repeated by Colm Keena, the ‘Legal Affairs Correspondent’ of the Irish Times on Monday.
Varadkar’s position as Minister and Tánaiste should be completely untenable. He should resign immediately. But whether Vardkar comes under renewed pressure at this stage depends on what more information emerges. Maybe Dr. ‘Zero Craic’ Ó Tuathail will be annoyed after his depiction as a dreamer who was pretending that he had Leo constantly “pulling strings” for him. He could provide evidence of how Varadkar “always delivers” as he suggested in a message to Bowes.
Even if Varadkar does survive for now, people have seen behind the curtain of establishment politics. It functions on the basis of a series of golden circles of insiders who look after insiders. Maitiú Ó Tuathail supports Varadkar’s campaign to be leader of Fine Gael. In return he gets access to a confidential document that he shouldn’t have.
The contrast with the treatment of the paramedics in NASRA at the same time as this leaking was happening is striking. The government refused to negotiate with them, never mind the Taoiseach leaking them confidential information. They were forced to take strike action.
Varadkar made a career of presenting himself as a clean and straight-talking politician. The fact that he has been exposed as just as grubby as his Fianna Fáil colleagues is helpful in revealing the reality of establishment politics today. The brown envelopes from developers may not be as frequent as the past, but insider access and ‘you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours’ politics hasn’t fundamentally changed.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are parties that represent big business and the ruling class in this state. The revolving door between Fine Gael politicians and the banking lobby, the Golfgate dinner, and this scandal all show how this relationship works in practice.
Their cosy relationships can be upended, but it will take a major movement from below. Corruption is endemic to the capitalist system, which functions on the basis of profiteering. The moneybags emoji from Ó’Tuathail to Bowes inviting him to get involved in Direct Provision illustrates it disgustingly. Those with political access also get the opportunity to profit from the provision of healthcare.
Ultimately, eliminating corruption requires organising society on a fundamentally different basis – on the basis of public ownership and democratic planning in the interests of people and our planet. Such a socialist society would see decent healthcare publicly provided through a National Health Service, instead of being privatised. Such a system would mean healthcare workers at all levels are an integral part of deciding how to ensure the best possible care, rather than having to trade favours with the powerful. It would also see direct provision being abolished, rather than profited from. It would see political representatives on the average wage of those they represent and subject to recall.
Remember that Varadkar is a deeply ideological politician. He is a class warrior for the rich, who as part of his rise to the top of Irish politics spent public money to kick those who were down. His infamous campaign against “welfare cheats” was based on entirely false statistics. The truth is that cheating politicians cheat us all. We can’t wait until the next election. He should go now.