An Garda Siochana have upgraded their initial inquiries into Tanaiste Leo Varadkar’s leaking of a confidential Irish government document to a friend into a full investigation.
It comes as the state’s political standards watchdog has separately said it is suspending its consideration of a complaint into the leak pending the outcome of the garda investigation.
Gardai are probing a complaint which centres on Mr Varadkar’s leaking of a confidential copy of the Irish government’s proposed new GP contract with the Irish Medical Organisation to Maitiu O Tuathail, who was then the head of the rival National Association of General Practitioners, in April 2019.
Mr Varadkar has apologised over the affair and has said his legal advice is that he “committed no offence”. He has offered to meet gardai to provide a full statement.
Gardai have not yet spoken to Mr Varadkar. However, this is standard procedure as he is considered the main person of interest. He will be spoken to last so that all material gathered in the course of the investigation can be put to him.
The decision does not mean at this stage of the investigation that a charge is a foregone conclusion, but investigating gardai have now gathered sufficient material to justify further investigation, it is understood.
In response to queries, a Garda spokesperson said yesterday: “I refer to your inquiry and am to advise An Garda Siochana does not comment on any ongoing investigations.”
Meanwhile, the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) has told People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy that it is suspending consideration of a complaint he made last November about the leak.
Sipo contacted Mr Murphy last Wednesday.
An official in the complaint and investigations unit told him: “The Commission notes that this matter is the subject of an investigation by An Garda Siochana, as reported in the media. Based on this information, the Commission has decided to suspend consideration of the complaint made by you until An Garda Siochana have concluded their investigation.”
Mr Murphy asked Sipo to investigate if Mr Varadkar breached the ‘Code of Conduct for Office Holders’ and the ‘Code of Conduct for Members of Dail Eireann and Seanad Eireann’.
Sipo declined to comment when contacted. “It is the practice of the Standards in Public Office Commission not to comment on individual compliance matters,” a spokesperson said. A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said: “The gardai have not been in contact with the Tanaiste about this matter.
“Last month, on foot of media reports, his solicitors contacted the gardai to confirm his willingness to meet them and provide a statement. His legal advice is that he has committed no offence and looks forward to the matter being concluded.”
When contacted Mr O Tuathail said: “I haven’t been contacted by gardai but if and when I am I will obviously fully cooperate with them.”
The Sunday Independent revealed last month that there had been “discussions” by senior officers about seizing phone records belonging to Mr Varadkar and Dr O Tuathail as well as Government officials involved in drafting the proposed GP contract.
Officers had been examining whether the complaint, made by a whistleblower at the Department of Health, could be investigated under a breach of the Official Secrets Act.
Assistant commissioner John O’Driscoll, who oversees Special Crime Operations, had been conducting an extensive review of the complaint. The senior officer heads the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation
Former Minister for Health Simon Harris has already provided a written statement to gardai over the controversy. He is not suspected of any wrongdoing.
Mr Varadkar survived a Dail motion of no confidence tabled by Sinn Fein in November on foot of the controversy. Mr Varadkar acknowledged at that time that what he did was “not best practice” and an “error of judgment”. He told the Dail: “There was nothing selfish, corrupt, dishonest or illegal in what I did.