Minister Simon Harris has expressed confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, in his first public comments after he gave a Garda statement amid an investigation into the leaking of a confidential document.
The controversy relates to the leaking of a GP contract for the Irish Medical Organisation to the head of a rival group by Mr Varadkar in 2019, while he was taoiseach and Mr Harris was the minister for health.
With detectives conducting “preliminary inquiries” into whether an offence may have been committed under the Official Secrets Act, it is understood that the now Minister for Higher Education Harris has given a written statement on the matter to gardaí.
Speaking on Monday to Clare FM, Minister Harris said his position remains unchanged from previous statements.
The Tánaiste apologised for it happening, and that’s good enough for me
“What happened should not have happened, the Tánaiste apologised for it happening, and that’s good enough for me,” he said.
“While it shouldn’t have been disseminated in the way that it was, I’m pretty confident that all of the salient information was in the public domain.”
Mr Harris is not under any investigation and it is understood he was asked for a statement due to his former role. Statements have been sought from a number of individuals and organisations, sources told The Irish Examiner.
Mr Varadkar said on Sunday that he had contacted gardaí through his solicitors after they launched an investigation into his leaking of the document.
The Tánaiste has denied any wrongdoing, and offered meet with gardaí to answer any questions they may have about his sharing of the contract to the head of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) in April 2019.
It is understood the investigation arose following a complaint from an employee in the Department of Health.
In a statement on Sunday, Mr Varadkar said: “The gardaí have to do their job and investigate that complaint. I would expect nothing else.
“They have not been in contact with me about the matter, but I have, through my solicitors, made contact with them and I have offered to meet with them, answer any questions they may have, and provide a statement on the matter.
“The facts are no different to those set out by me in the Dáil last November.
“My legal advice is that I have committed no offence. I look forward to the matter being concluded.
“Given the circumstances, I won’t be making any further comment.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Health Minister said he will co-operate with a Garda investigation into matter if asked.
Stephen Donnelly said he was not made aware of a complaint from a whistleblower in his department that has prompted the Garda investigation.
He said he has not been approached to speak to gardaí, but will do so if asked.
He told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics: “I’m not aware of anything like that.
“I think a complaint has been made to the guards, they’re looking into it, and I think we need to let them just get on with their inquiries.”
He added: “The first I heard about it was was it being reported through the media.”
Asked if he had been approached by the gardaí, Mr Donnelly said: “No, I haven’t. Obviously I will, it goes without saying, if they do.
“This did happen I think, quite some time before I came into the role. But needless to say, I will if they’re looking for anything.”
A spokesperson for the gardaí said: “An Garda Síochána has received correspondence which is currently being assessed to determine what if any Garda action is required.
“An Garda Siochana has no further comment at this time.”
Mr Varadkar has previously admitted to giving a copy of the document to his friend Dr Maitiu O Tuathail, who at the time was president of the NAGP, a rival of the IMO, in April 2019.
The Fine Gael leader came under fire for passing the documents, regarding a GP pay deal with the IMO to a rival organisation.
The Government won a confidence motion in Mr Varadkar on the issue by 92 votes to 65 in October last year.
The Tánaiste said he recognised his actions were “not best practice”, but insisted he had nothing personally to gain from the leak and said he did so in order to secure backing for the deal from all GPs.