Wednesday, November 09, 2022

By Michelle Devane, PA

The Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has said it has “no role” in examining Tánaiste Leo Varadkar over document leak claims.

The Fine Gael leader was informed on Wednesday that the ethics watchdog had decided not to carry out an investigation over his alleged leaking of a GP contract in 2019.

Mr Varadkar issued a statement saying he “always” expected he would be “cleared” of criminal wrongdoing.

It follows a complaint by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy and three others, one of whom subsequently withdrew the complaint.

 

The decision by Sipo, seen by the PA news agency, said it had decided not to carry out an investigation into Mr Varadkar given it does not have the remit to consider “either the lawfulness of the action or the extent of the powers of the office of Taoiseach”.

The Sipo finding stated: “The complainants allege that the respondent acted improperly and/or unlawfully in a number of respects.”

They called on the organisation to conduct an investigation.

“The commission carefully considered its legal advice and all the evidence before it, including the acceptance by the respondent that he did disclose the agreement but that it was done pursuant to the functions of the office of the Taoiseach and in furtherance of the policy goals of the Government,” the watchdog found.

“In such circumstances, where the commission is of the view that it has no role and/or remit to consider either the lawfulness of the action or the extent of the powers of the office of Taoiseach, it is the opinion of the commission that evidence sufficient to sustain a complaint is not and will not be available, even in circumstances where the disclosure of the Agreement is not in dispute.

“Accordingly, the commission has decided in accordance with Section 23 (1C) of the 1995 Act not to carry out an investigation.”

Two of the commissioners at Sipo voted against the decision not to investigate.

In a statement, Mr Varadkar said: “Today, I was informed by the Standards in Public Office Commission that it would not be investigating me for any alleged breach of the Standards in Public Office or Ethics Acts.

“I have been now cleared of criminal wrongdoing and any breach of ethics or standards.

“This is always the outcome I expected.”

It comes after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) earlier this year decided not to prosecute Mr Varadkar over the matter.

The Dublin West TD had been under investigation by the DPP for passing a copy of an official document to a friend of his while he was taoiseach.

The Tánaiste said his disclosure of the document was lawful and he did so in the public interest.

Mr Varadkar has admitted that in April 2019 he sent a copy of a doctors’ pay deal between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.

Dr Ó Tuathail was head of the rival organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners, at the time.

 

Mr Varadkar has apologised for disclosing the document.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said it was “unfortunate” that Sipo had decided “by three to two not to further investigate Varadkar’s breaches of ethics legislation”.

Mr Murphy rejected that Mr Varadkar was “cleared”.

“Contrary to what he has claimed, he was not cleared of any breach of standards,” Mr Murphy said.

“Varadkar claimed he couldn’t be in breach because he leaked it as taoiseach.

“Sipo accepted that he leaked as taoiseach, then decided they couldn’t investigate whether taoiseach has that power.

“This creates a worrying precedent whereby future taoisigh can breach ethics legislation and if they say they did it as taoiseach, Sipo will not investigate.

“The fact remains that Varadkar leaked the confidential GP contract to a political supporter for his benefit.”

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