From top: Tánaiste Leo Varadkar; former head of the National Association of General Practitioners Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail; Minister for Justice Helen McEntee
Minister for Justice and Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee spoke to Mary Wilson on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland about The Village reporting over the weekend that, back in April 2019, the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaked a confidential agreement reached with the Irish Medical Organisation to his friend and then head of the National Association of General Practitioners Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.
Mr Varadkar has since admitted that he shared the document with Dr Ó Tuathail on a date between April 11 and 16, 2019. He has denied that he acted unlawfully but admitted that his actions were not best practice.
In a statement released last night, Dr Ó Tuathail said:
“We received a copy of the finalised, agreed and announced programme for chronic disease management from the then Taoiseach in mid-April. This was seen as a continuation of the decision by the Government to consult with the NAGP and its GP members and keep them informed throughout.”
“We could not adopt a position on the programme for chronic disease management as a union, without full access to the details that it contained.”
During this morning’s interview, Ms McEntee told Ms Wilson that the agreement was reached on April 3, 2019, and that it had been widely circulated by the time Mr Varadkar shared it with Dr Ó Tuathail.
But she conceded it was not actually published in its entirety at that point.
Mary Wilson: “Minister, for clarity, was the agreement published?”
Helen McEntee: “So the entire document itself was not…”
Wilson: “Was not published…it was not in the public domain?”
McEntee: “It was not. However, what I do need to stress is that the deal had been reached, that the majority, if not all of the sensitive information, the information that the IMO themselves were then essentially campaigning with their GPs on had been agreed. It had been signed off by Cabinet, so any suggestion, and there seems to be a suggestion that this document was given for some sort of a) personal gain but also that there could be changes made, this did not come back to Cabinet. And everything that was agreed, the detailed information was already being campaigned on…”
Wilson: “Ok. But why, if as you say,…
McEntee: “To try and bring GPs on board.”
Wilson: “…it was all agreed, i’s dotted, t’s crossed, why was it then that the Tánaiste, who was the Taoiseach at the time, and the Minister for Health, why were they not calling in the NAGP, in a formal setting, walking into Leinster House, to have a look at this document. Why was it going, a document marked ‘confidential, restricted circulation, going by courier, to the head of the NAGP’s home?”
McEntee: “So, again, and I go back to what you said at the very beginning and the Tánaiste himself has said the manner in which this was delivered could have been done better, it was not best practice, however, what he was doing and it’s important to say, that, you know, this wasn’t the first contact, there had been engagement with the NAGP throughout these negotiations but, as I said, the IMO, as the main representative organisation, the decision was taken to negotiate with them and, as I said, I do think a great deal was done by the IMO for their member. But this represented all GPs, it wasn’t just those who were represented by the IMO…”
Wilson: “Minister, in that case…”
McEntee: “That would have to understand this, that would have sign up. And so the commitment that was given to the NAGP, to keep them informed, again and I do accept and the Tánaiste accepts this, and I’m sure that he’ll say this again tomorrow when he answers questions, when he makes his statement and he was very clear that he would do that. The manner in which it was delivered could have been better. It was not best practice but the intention was clear.”
Wilson: “And yet Minister by the end of April, the NAGP members, it wouldn’t appear they had sight of this agreement?”
McEntee: “Well, I suppose I can’t, I can’t say what happened after the document was given. The intention was that this was to ensure that GPs understood what they potentially were or were not signed up to so I can’t…”
Wilson: “A confidential, restricted circulation document.”
McEntee: “So, all of the information that was being, so to speak, decided upon. All of the sensitive information, the financial information, the nub of the details as I’ve said, the most sensitive of information was already out there. This was already signed off by Cabinet, this was already been campaigned on by the IMO, for the members to try and bring GPs on board.”
Wilson: “But we still come back, minister, we still come back to that fundamental question: Why then was this being put in an envelope, confidential, restricted circulation, sent by courier, by the Taoiseach, and he says now it was not best practice, to the head of the NAGP.”
McEntee: “I can’t answer that for you. I…”
Wilson: “Isn’t that a question that needs answering though?”
McEntee: “And I think the Tánaiste will answer that and I have to say he was very quick to say that he had no problem in making a statement in answering these questions. He has said that that manner in which it was delivered could have been done better and I have no doubt that if he is asked that question that you’ve just asked me, he will explain it. But I cannot answer that. But I do know that he will answer any question that he is asked tomorrow in the Dáil when he makes his statement.”
Wilson: “He is the leader of your party, he is the Tánaiste, he was the Taoiseach at the time. Is trust a casualty here?”
McEntee: “On my part, no. And I say that on the basis of a) that I have worked with him for many years and find him to be an honourable person in every element of work that he does….”
McEntee: “…a very clear commitment was given to the NAGP to keep them informed. There had been engagement with them throughout the negotiations and yes, the manner in which it was delivered could have been done better but the motivation here was a) to fulfil a commitment made by Government. And b) to ensure that as many GPs signed up to this as possible.
“The detail on which and, you know, I have to point even to a tweet I saw yesterday from an IMO council member who said that they were submitting articles on deep details to medical newspapers, they were presenting this deal to GP groups, they were phoning dozens of GPs, hundreds of GPs had the information that was in this document.
“The intention here was to try and get more people on board to sign this contact.”
McEntee: “…the fine details had been published, it had been welcomed, Cabinet had agreed it, so you know, at this stage, hundreds of GPs had this information and the only intention and motivation here was to ensure that a very good deal…”
Wilson: “Briefly minister…”
McEntee: “…had been negotiated by the IMO…”
Talk over each other
Wilson: “You are the Minister for Justice, would you leak a document in this way?”
McEntee: “Well I haven’t, you know, is the answer. Again I have to say this is information that was widely known by hundreds of GPs and hundreds of…”
Wilson: “But you still wouldn’t?”
Wilson: “You still wouldn’t, even a document that you say was widely known, you wouldn’t do that?”
McEntee: “But, again, you have to ask what has actually happened here…”
Wilson: “No, no, it’s a simple, it is a simple question. A document, you say it was widely circulated, but it was still a confidential document, would you have leaked it in this way?”
McEntee: “Well, I think the manner in which it was done could have been done better so if I was in that position, whether I would have done it differently, in terms of how it was delivered but this was a commitment, this was a commitment made to the NAGP. You’ve asked if I’ve ever leaked a document. That’s separate. This was a commitment to the NAGP to try and make sure that they understood what their members were potentially voting on.”
Listen back in full here