By David Young, PA
Leo Varadkar branded opposition TD Roisin Shortall a “hypocrite” during fiery Dail exchanges related to his leaking of a confidential document.
The Tánaiste later withdrew his accusation against the Social Democrats co-leader, only to accuse her of being a “purveyor of double standards” instead.
The episode took place during Leaders’ Questions when Ms Shortall raised concerns about the effectiveness of the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).
That came after the ethics watchdog said it has “no role” in examining Mr Varadkar over his leaking of a document related to a draft GP contract in 2019 at a time when he was taoiseach.
Sipo said it had decided not to carry out an investigation into Mr Varadkar’s actions as it did not have the remit to consider “either the lawfulness of the action or the extent of the powers of the office of Taoiseach”.
Earlier this year, it was confirmed that Mr Varadkar would not face criminal proceedings over the incident.
The Fine Gael leader had been under investigation by the authorities for passing a copy of an official document to a friend of his while he was taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar has admitted that he sent a copy of a draft doctors’ pay deal between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation to Dr Maitiu O Tuathail.
Dr O Tuathail was head of the rival organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners, at the time.
Mr Varadkar has apologised for his actions but has maintained the disclosure of the document was lawful and was done in the public interest.
Ms Shortall told the Dail the fact Sipo was not able to probe Mr Varadkar’s actions placed a question mark over its effectiveness.
“That raises fundamental questions about the powers of Sipo and its ability or lack thereof to hold politicians to account,” she said.
Ms Shortall said her party had long campaigned for Sipo to be given some “badly needed teeth” as she expressed concern that it was more “lapdog than watchdog”.
Responding, Mr Varadkar said he favoured giving Sipo more powers in respect of overseeing standards and ethics, but he said he did not believe it should have a role investigating “political decisions” of ministers.
He added: “In 2019, I disclosed a government document, it was not a contract, but I disclosed a government document to somebody using an informal channel.
“I shouldn’t have done that. I apologise for that. But I did so under the authority of the Taoiseach, entirely within the law, and in the public interest. I committed no crime.”
He then challenged Ms Shortall over past comments he said she had made claiming he was not fit to be taoiseach while he was under investigation.
He suggested the Social Democrats would not apply the same standards to fellow left wing parties, in particular Sinn Fein.
“Just because I was under investigation at the time you didn’t think I was fit to be elected taoiseach, or to serve in cabinet. That’s fine, that’s your view, you’re entitled that view,” he said.
“Does that view extend to Sinn Fein? If it is the case that any Sinn Fein politician is under investigation by a public body when the next election comes, will you apply the same standard to them? Will you say the Social Democrats will not allow such a person to serve in cabinet or do you have a different standard for them that you have for us?”
At the close of their question and answer exchanges, Mr Varadkar and Ms Shortall continued to trade verbal remarks across the floor of the Dail chamber.
At this point, Mr Varadkar accused her of being a “hypocrite”.
Ms Shortall responded: “Maybe you’d like to say that outside this House?”
The Tánaiste replied: “Just like Sinn Fein, you sue your opponents now, that’s the latest thing.”
At the close of Leaders’ Questions, Ms Shortall formally asked Dail deputy speaker Catherine Connolly for Mr Varadkar to withdraw his “hypocrite” remark, claiming he had “impugned my character, integrity and good name”.
Ms Connolly told the Tánaiste the comment was precluded from use in the Dail and was “not acceptable”.
Mr Varadkar said he was “happy” to withdraw the comment. However, he claimed Ms Shortall had also “impugned my character”.
He added: “I did note that, a little bit like the leader of the Opposition (Mary Lou McDonald), you challenge her and she threatens to sue you.”
The Tánaiste said he would replace the reference to Ms Shortall as a “hypocrite” with the term “purveyor of double standards”.