Derek Mooney: A Leaked History Of Leaking

at

From top: Taoiseach Micheál Martin (right) is under fire from members of his own party over his handling of Tanaiste Leo Varadkar’s GP contract controversy; Derek Mooney

I’m sure many of you were shocked as I was to learn last Friday that Sinn Féin doesn’t have confidence in Leo Varadkar.

Seriously, who’d have thought it?

Who’d have imagined that the main opposition party, a party that sees the future of Irish politics as a polarised race between itself and Fine Gael, would not have confidence in current Fine Gael leader?

As I explained in my first piece here last week there is no doubt that the Tánaiste has not gone far enough in his apology or his assurances about how he conducts the business of government. Some of the explanations he offered last Tuesday were so juvenile and feeble that it was shameful to see them sent out alone without a guardian.

Many who will vote confidence in Varadkar on Tuesday night will do so with no more trust or confidence in the man now than voters had in him last February.

But, as President-Elect Biden likes to say, here’s the deal… unless substantial new evidence emerges between now and the time the division bells are sounded, the vote will be an entirely pointless exercise, designed more to embarrass Fianna Fáil and the Greens than to censure the Tánaiste.

Like it or not, this saga is not really capturing public attention. It is not that people don’t care, it’s just that they look at this and wearily conclude that (a) they are all at it, (b) when it comes to leaking Sinn Féin would be no better or worse or than Fine Gael, (c) we have much bigger things to be focused on now… or a mixture of all three.

Voters are not naïve; they know that for some politicians leaking is less an occupational hazard and more a career necessity. They see political leaks as largely, though not exclusively, falling into one of four/five categories. There are several more – but let’s stick with the principal ones here.

Category 1 covers leaks made to embarrass other parties and put your own side ahead. The second category concerns leaks made against party colleagues to help advance the leaker’s political career, though the motivation can be simple jealousy. I could give many recent examples of both, but I promised to keep this week’s piece under 1200 words.

The third group features leaks that have no direct benefit for the leaker apart from storing up brownie points with journalists. This is the chips in the bank approach where the leaker hopes to have something to cash-in with the next time they land themselves in trouble.

As Bernard Woolley, the private secretary in Yes Minister responds when his minister admit that item appearing in the newspaper was the result of a confidential press briefing, not a leak:-

Oh, that’s another of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he’s been charged under Section 2a of the Official Secrets Act.

This is the difference between an authorised disclosure of information and an unauthorised one. The Taoiseach or minister of the day can authorise the release of information or documents, but that is not something they usually do by stealth without any reference to trusted confidents.

It is certainly not something they do when, as the Tánaiste said last Tuesday, they had agreed not to publish the contract as:

“The IMO wanted to do it differently and wanted to hold meetings around the country to consult and engage with its members before doing so.”

So, the Taoiseach knew the IMO believed their chances of getting the contract passed would be bolstered by not publishing it before they consulted members. Why leak it, then?

The Tánaiste says it was to show that there was “nothing in it worth opposing or agitating against”. Thus Leo Varadkar would have us believe his one and only ever leak falls into a fourth category of leaks: leaks made in the public interest.

Category 4 leaks are rare. They are often the absolute last resort where all other avenues have been explored and exhausted.

Sinn Féin says it does not buy that… but stops far short of saying this leak belongs to a fifth category of leaks: those made for corrupt personal gain. This fifth type is unacceptable under all circumstances. It should lead not just to a vote of no confidence, but a full criminal investigation.

Writing here in advance of the Tánaiste addressing the Dáil I said that it was bad politics for him and the Taoiseach to downplay his action as a mere lapse of judgement.

It was more than that. It was wrong. As Jim O’Callaghan TD commented on Twitter after the Tánaiste spoke:

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.

It can be difficult, if not downright impossible, to come across as truly contrite in the Dáil chamber in the face of political game playing and point scoring. But the Tánaiste couldn’t even be bothered to feign contrition last Tuesday. It is a point which Deputy Catherine Connolly highlighted when she directly asked:

“When did the Tánaiste realise that he had made an error of judgment?”

If anyone came close last Tuesday to posing a Howard Baker-esque ‘What Did the President Know, and When Did He Know It?’ question, it was Deputy Connolly. But while this is serious, Watergate it is not.

The other reason this is not Watergate is because in Watergate the wrongdoing was on one side only. Those who came looking for answers and answerability on the break-in and cover up came with clean hands. Is that the case here?

As I said last week “The wrongs done by one [side] do not distract from those of the other”. Sinn Féin has mishandled the issues relating to its finances just as much as Varadkar has mishandled his leaking of the IMO contract.

This isn’t whataboutary, it is simply a reflection of the fact that the Sinn Féin leadership have a range of awkward and difficult questions to answer on its finances.

These go from how it embraces partition to accept a £4million donation in the North, avoiding the 26 counties’ standard in public office donation limits, to why it takes seven months to return £30k erroneously received from Northern Ireland’s emergency COVID-19 fund for small businesses – and how come that only happened a few days before the BBC Radio Ulster Nolan Live show broke the story.

If the media hadn’t pushed Sinn Féin on the three £10,000 payments would the money have remained in the bank accounts of Sinn Féin, assuming it hadn’t already been spent? How are these accounts managed and run? Who controls them?

Rather than answering the valid questions facing both, they’ve opted to poke each other in the eye. Not that the damage will run too deep. Sinn Féin and Fine Gael are the best of enemies. They are each other’s best nemesis as they set about cannibalising the parties around them and hollow out the political centre.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010.  His column appears here every Monday.Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

RollingNews

26 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: A Leaked History Of Leaking

  1. MME

    Just like the legal doctrine of equity, when you come to court seeking an equitable remedy, you must come with clean hands. When one casts an eye over the mala fides and mucky hands of those seeking the remedy of Varadkar’s sacking, notably disgruntled Cosgrave and the particularly twisted Bowes not to mention Sinn Fein, they do not deserve this “prize” whatsoever. Excepting of course if this lot are sitting on some new “evidence”.

    1. GiggidyGoo

      What’s wrong with the old evidence?

      By the way – if Varadkar had any sense, he’d have resigned and thus stopped this, wouldn’t he?
      Or are you saying that he did nothing wrong?

      1. MME

        This story (ask your average man or woman to explain it to you) has not seized the public consciousness despite the best efforts of the phalanx of Shinnerbots on Twitter trying their very best. Twitter is not real life and such visceral hatred of Varadkar is somewhat transparent and counterproductive. People are not that stupid.

        Nobody is suggesting anything other than serious errors of judgement on Varadkar’s part but in no way do the charges fit the Shinner demand for his head. Also, nobody wants an election now. As I have mentioned before, the simply dreadful individuals behind this story have likely had the effect of shoring up particularly FG support behind Leo and a reticence on the part of the others to go too far in pulling the plug.

        The ignominy of government collapse or resignation at the behest of such deeply unsympathetic individuals such as Cosgrave and Bowes.

      2. GiggidyGoo

        I’d agree with you as regards twitter and real life – It’s not something I’m on but I do get some information there. Having said that – Varadkar + almost every politician uses Twitter to promote themselves / their views, so you can’t pigeon-hole one section.

        I get out a lot, and contrary to your opinion, the ‘average man and woman’ are a lot more tuned in and opinionated on this matter that you think.

        It wasn’t an error of judgement either. Varadkar knew quite well the rules. Back in 2017 he wrote to Gavin Tobin, who had a request in with him….
        “Hi Gavin. Cabinet Handbook doesn’t allow me to go behind the backs of other ministers or enter into confidence with someone else to exclude them. Signed an contract to observe Collective responsibility and cabinet confidentiality” That’s kinda clear that Varadkar was aware of his responsibilities. No error of judgement.

        As regards ‘nobody wants an election now’. Well then, shouldn’t Varadkar do the decent thing and bow out of his minister-ship and take whatever punishment is due to him?. No need for an election then – unless you’re saying that FG would pull the plug.

        1. Portroegirl

          The Cabinet Handbook is actually published on gov.ie and called : Department of the Taoiseach Cabinet Handbook!Last updated last year.!!
          :Have a look at :’Safekeeping of Government Memoranda:2.21,2.22&2.23 in the Cabinet Handbook!
          Have a look at : Government documents: there’s only 3 exceptions: in the Cabinet Handbook
          :in accordance with provisions contained in Freedom of Information legislation relating to factual information and provisions relating to Government records which are more than 10 years old
          :under National Archives legislation when they are more than 30 years old
          :on foot of a judicial Order for disclosure.
          There are the ONLY exemptions!
          As Jim O Callaghan also said “motivation is irrelevant”!

  2. GiggidyGoo

    “Voters are not naïve; they know that for some politicians leaking is less an occupational hazard and more a career necessity. They see political leaks as largely, though not exclusively, falling into one of four/five categories. There are several more – but let’s stick with the principal ones here.”

    You omitted to write that voters see leaks of the type Varadkar made, as illegal. Additionally, this wasn’t a ‘political’ (your choice of word) leak in my opinion. In my opinion, it was a leak to a personal friend to afford him the opportunity to gain for his organization and friends financially. The various texts/whatsapp messages bear that out.

    1. MME

      Given the factual matrix leading up to sharing the document and the rancour and difficulty of coming to an agreement with GP unions, the motivation was decidedly not “personal gain” but to ensure an agreement was obtained. Also, there was no actual personal gain. If so, what was it?! This is the flimsiest and most tenuous claim.

      1. GiggidyGoo

        Motivation is not a defense in relation to sharing a confidential state document. Ever. At the risk of repetition….

        “Hi Gavin. Cabinet Handbook doesn’t allow me to go behind the backs of other ministers or enter into confidence with someone else to exclude them. Signed an contract to observe Collective responsibility and cabinet confidentiality”

        If you read the various texts/whatsapp you’ll see that there are mentions of personal gain. Here’s a screenshot.
        https://villagemagazine.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Text-1.2-1-592×1024.png

  3. Ben Madigan

    “This isn’t whataboutery…”
    That’s exactly what it is.
    And Derek knows full well if the positions were reversed, FF or FG in opposition would both table motions of no confidence in any SF leader, regardless of their own party misdoings.

  4. Mr .T

    “The other reason this is not Watergate is because in Watergate the wrongdoing was on one side only. Those who came looking for answers and answerability on the break-in and cover up came with clean hands. Is that the case here?

    As I said last week “The wrongs done by one [side] do not distract from those of the other”. Sinn Féin has mishandled the issues relating to its finances just as much as Varadkar has mishandled his leaking of the IMO contract.”

    “This isn’t whataboutary,”

    Literally whataboutery – Sinn Fein had no hand in this leaking scandal, totally Varadkars doing.

  5. Janet, dreams of a steamed clootie

    that was like listening to two kids argue, why did you hit your brother ? ” but he hit johnny last week ” and ” his sandwich was bigger ” ffs

  6. Joe

    You are letting your self down Derek, your own party members resigned at the behest of your party’s FG boss Varadkar. That seriously undermined Micheal Martin so much, that he has referred to Varadkar as ” taoiseach” on multiple occasions. FF keeping Varadkar in power further decimates FF’s low credibility and election prospects. Instead of inanely attacking the Shinners you really should examine and write a column on how the highest office holder in government has shafted FF, behaved execrably and is unfit for office for his behaviour.

      1. v AKA Frilly Keane

        They’ll be keeping their trap shut

        Look at who was a former President of the IMO
        And a good lad to have around the table when it comes to putting money into GPs pockets
        Both Medical Card practices and the private providers

        Shur didn’t he negotiate the o-70s medical card deal for GPs
        €€€€€€€€€€s

          1. v AKA Frilly Keane

            No accident
            even if someone tries to make it about War Room Decision making etc

            Look into what the IMO was paying its former CEO
            George McNiece
            Barely 50 and he effed off with 10 m in pensions (settled from the 20 mill he worked out for himself)
            Lad was getting John Delaney type money for years there
            and at a time when the Country was at its post crash lowest as well.

            Believe me lads
            The IMO won’t be having a word to say about all this

  7. seanydelight

    A minister for trade who can’t be trusted with confidential info is not fit for office particularly during Brexit.

    There was clear financial benefits for NAGP. Sick of the defense to the contrary…

    He tried to win influence and financial gain for his friend. Corruption. It couldn’t be clearer.

  8. GiggidyGoo

    https://villagemagazine.ie/at-least-10-times-not-2-or-3/

    Adding “lying to the Dail” to the Varadkar list now. In fact, lying to the Dail is a resigning matter, so the ball is firmly in Varadkar’s court now. Remember, that unlike, say, Flanagan, he can’t hide behind an excuse of having been given inaccurate information.

    Donohue and Harris get mentions too about times when they met O’Tuathail with Varadkar. Will they corroborate Varadkar’s stories?

Comments are closed.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!