Monday, May 08, 2023

High Court reporters

The High Court has directed that an application for permission to bring a challenge over the ethics watchdog’s refusal to investigate a claim that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaked a draft GP contract should be heard on notice to both the watchdog and Mr Varadkar’s solicitors.

The challenge against the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) is being brought by People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy.

Mr Murphy initiated the challenge last February and it was adjourned until last month when Mr Justice Charles Meenan said he first wanted certain legal points clarified before he permitted Mr Murphy to pursue his challenge.

The judge, in doing so, pointed to the preliminary nature of Sipo’s decision not to conduct a preliminary inquiry into the alleged matter in April 2019.

There is a considerable amount of case law saying that usual features of fair procedure rules do not apply to the same extent at a preliminary stage, he said.

Among Mr Murphy’s grounds of challenge is a claim his right to fair procedures and natural and constitutional justice was breached by Sipo’s decision. He further seeks an order remitting the matter back to Sipo for reconsideration.

Mr Murphy made a complaint to Sipo in November 2020 that Mr Varadkar, then Tanáiste, provided a copy of the confidential proposed GP’s contract agreement in April 2019 to Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

The agreement had been negotiated between the Department of Health, the HSE, and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO). Dr Ó Tuathail’s NAGP is a rival of the IMO and was not party to the negotiations.

Mr Murphy says the document was confidential and had not been released publicly.

Mr Varadkar, following publicity about the alleged leak, denied it was confidential by the time he passed it to Dr Ó’Tuathail.

The case returned before the judge on Monday, when he directed that the hearing of the application for leave to bring the challenge be heard on notice to Sipo and that Mr Varadkar’s solicitors should also be served with the papers.

The judge put the case in for mention again next month.

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