Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar remains mired in scandal after damning new revelations are to be added to a criminal investigation into his leaking of a valuable government document to a friend.
Micheál Martin, who replaced him as Taoiseach last year, is being urged to sack Varadkar if he refuses to resign as Tánaiste.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the leak of a doctors’ pay agreement as “an abuse of power” and said “politically this can’t be tolerated”.
Mr Varadkar (left) has admitted that in April 2019, while he was Taoiseach, he sent a copy of a doctors’ pay deal between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to his friend, Dr Maitiu Ó Tuathail.
Dr Ó Tuathail was head of the rival organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), at the time.
It has now emerged that Mr Varadkar requested the document while flying in a government jet. He asked for it to be waiting for him as he arrived at Baldonnel Airport.
Documents released to Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty under Freedom of Information show that Varadkar asked for the hard copy to be sent to him urgently at around the same time he was looking for Mr Ó Tuathail’s home address.
It is understood Varadkar collected the document and subsequently couriered it to his friend, who used it to negotiate a highly advantageous contract for his organisation.
The scandal first emerged when Ó Tuathail bragged about his connection to the Taoiseach in an internet chat group with the damning comment that “Leo always delivers” underneath a photo of the document which bore the warning “Confidential - not for circulation”
Mr Varadkar has admitted his actions were “not best practice” but continues to deny he broke any laws.
Last week, it emerged that Gardaí examining the case had escalated their inquiry to a criminal probe. The National Bureau of Crime Investigation (NBCI) is examining if there has been a breach of anti-corruption legislation and the Official Secrets Act.
Ms McDonald said: “This was a political stroke, pure and simple. It was an abuse of power by the then-Taoiseach designed to give advantage to a friend.
“This was about doing favours for insiders. Politically this can’t be tolerated.”
She said Mr Varadkar should have been resigned when the story first broke in November, describing his position as untenable.
She added: “Last November we tabled a motion of no confidence in the Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar because we believed that he should have been sacked and everything that has happened since then has proven that we were correct.
“He has only remained in office because Fianna Fail, the Greens and a number of independents are keeping him there.
“He gave a cock and bull story to the Dail last November and has been forced to change his story repeatedly as more and more information has come to light.”
INSIDERS WIN AGAIN
It is not the only healthcare corruption scandal to intensify this week. It also emerged that the Beacon private hospital has been secretly distributing a portion of its Covid-19 vaccine allotment to an extended circle around the hospital and its CEO, Michael Cullen (right).
It comes despite a scandal over the same practice last month, when friends and family of the manager of another hospital were vaccinated on the basis that some doses were “left over”.
It emerged this week that 20 teachers and staff from Cullen’s children’s private school were inoculated far ahead of their place in the schedule, as well as workers at a creche used by hospital staff.
The hospital has defended the practice, despite reports that some highly vulnerable people, including some aged in their 90s, have been passed over for a vaccine dose.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that the situation was “completely unacceptable” and “there is absolutely no defence of it whatsoever”, but could not say why he had failed to stop the crony vaccinations.
Sinn Féin TD for Wicklow John Brady called for an investigation. He said the situation “smacked of the well-heeled looking after the well-heeled”.
“If there is a risk of vaccination waste, it is frontline workers and at-risk groups who must be fast-tracked,” he said.
“How this was allowed to happen requires investigation; it is imperative that there is transparency and accountability if public confidence in the vaccine rollout is to be restored.”