Leo Varadkar, lawbreaker: Tánaiste leaked confidential document to friend
Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has come to be known as a leaker. The hashtag #leotheleak has trended on Twitter on several occasions after Varadkar was accused of publishing things he shouldn’t have. That Leo leaks however hasn’t yet been proven — or become a political liability for the Tánaiste. That may change with evidence from a healthcare whistleblower that Varadkar, while Taoiseach, leaked a confidential document to a personal associate.
Chay Bowes has spent the last two decades as an uneasy insider in Irish healthcare. He’s been successful: he’s picked up HSE contracts; he’s established and managed profitable companies; he’s sold one to the state-owned VHI Healthcare. He’s also come to understand the behaviour and business practices required and rewarded in Ireland’s two-tier healthcare industry, an industry populated by a mix of public and private operators. And he’s been frustrated.
He’s seen how it’s in private operators’ interest to peddle for influence with their public counterparts — be they government or Health Service Executive (HSE) representatives — and then tout this influence as a marker of their significance within the increasingly privatised industry. He’s seen how these public and private players frequently switch sides, moving from one sector to the other and then back again.
Over the last 20 years, Bowes has both courted and been courted by a former HSE director-general for Community Hospital Ireland (CHI), a nonprofit Bowes founded in 2018, which he now says is “dead” after running into what he considers political opposition. While coming up against a competitor private healthcare company, he says he saw how crucial political connections with senior Fine Gael figures and HSE executives are to the delivery of supposedly patient-centric healthcare.
And while building the relationships needed to deliver CHI, Bowes was witness to then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaking a confidential and commercially sensitive document to personal associate Maitiú Ó Tuathail, who has since become a regular fixture in Irish media.
“I was dumbfounded that a friend of the then Taoiseach was claiming such professional closeness to him that he would improperly forward him potentially explosive confidential documentation,” he says.
Since becoming Tánaiste Varadkar has been accused of a number of leaks. After he appeared to publish Budget 2020 details before its official announcement, the hashtag #leotheleak trended, just as it had following Varadkar’s criticisms of NPHET on Claire Byrne Live in early October. The Tánaiste has also seemed to undermine Taoiseach Micheál Martin on other occasions, announcing that Kildare was to stay in its August lockdown longer than expected before Martin had the chance to hold a press conference. The hashtag spoke to a belief, until now unsubstantiated, that Varadkar leaks information to friendly journalists in Irish media.
With his leak to Ó Tuathail however comes the first evidence of a potentially illegal leak from Varadkar — a leak that carries with it a potential 10-year sentence under the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018.
At the time of the leak, Maitiú Ó Tuathail was president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), an embattled GPs’ union that would be liquidated with more than €400,000 in debts just months later. Though the NAGP as an organisation held little influence, Ó Tuathail claimed to be a personal friend of Varadkar. He claimed to be able to speak to Varadkar’s true feelings on direct provision, distinct from his public statements, and boasted that “Leo always delivers” when it came to personal favours.
This was a personal favour however that leaves Varadkar open to serious corruption charges.