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'Not a close friend' - Leo distances himself from GP he leaked to


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Dr Maitiu O Tuathail

Dr Maitiu O Tuathail

Dr Maitiu O Tuathail

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

During an almost two-hour grilling, 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".

Mr Varadkar's comment came as new text messages from Dr Ó Tuathail were read into the Dáil record.

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".

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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. However, the Tánaiste said it was not for him to "advise or direct" the NAGP on putting out a statement.

In his opening address, Mr Varadkar said he is "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 it in the process of negotiating a new contract.

Yesterday, the Opposition questioned the Tánaiste on why he took the decision to leak a copy of the contract the Government agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to his friend.

Mr Varadkar admitted he told no one he was sending the document to Dr Ó Tuathail's 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.

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 practice."

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."

His party colleague Marc MacSharry said he was disappointed Fianna Fáil TDs were not allowed to question Mr Varadkar.

"If this situation stands, an example of acceptable behaviour could be for the minister for finance to leak a budget a month in advance to say an industry body to curry favour before it is ann- ounced," Mr MacSharry added.

During the Dáil debate the Tánaiste was forced to hit out at "innuendo" about his friendship with Dr Ó Tuathail when Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath suggested a photograph of Mr Varadkar and GP at the Gay Pride Parade in 2019 was evidence they were "very close contacts".

Mr McGrath referred to Pride as "a certain parade".

The image is one of a small number of photographs of the two men together and has been printed in a number of media outlets over recent days.

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Mr McGrath raised heckles as he said the Tánaiste had told the Dáil of a "different range of friends".

"Some are distance friends, some are absent friends and some are friends for the time being. I just had a photo on my phone here of you and Dr Ó Tuathail involved in a certain march in Dublin in 2019. Very close contacts and very close friends," the Independent TD said.

He claimed the GP had used Mr Varadkar "as a puppet".

The Tánaiste responded by saying: "We all know the innuendo here. We all know what it is. We all know it's a big part of what was there in the article (in Village Magazine), and what's there online. It's not true deputy.

"I know what's being said, it's not true. This is somebody who is not a close friend He's in my wider social circle.

"I'd say we've met twice in the last year. Once at a Christmas drinks thing over a year ago. Once when six people went out to dinner, and he was one of the six and I was one of the other six."


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