Varadkar off the Hook: Questions Remain | Cassandra Voices

Varadkar off the Hook: Questions Remain

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In response to allegations made against then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar which appeared in Village Magazine, in March 2022 I submitted a formal statement to the Garda investigative team regarding the Official Secrets Act (hencefore OSA); in particular pertaining to the responsibilities of Martin Fraser, then the most senior civil servant in the country.

I also pointed to an usually-timed departure from precedent in Fraser’s appointment as the next ambassador to London, which is in the gift of Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Certain circumstantial evidence remains pertinent to any interrogation by the Oireachtas into what has occurred, namely:

February 11, 2019: the NAGP union write a threatening letter to Fine Gael HQ warning it would be canvassing against them in upcoming local elections and the forthcoming general election.

April 10, 2019: the confidential GP contract is couriered from the Taoiseach’s Department to then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Baldonnel airport without formal authorisation and with no conditions attached.

April 25, 2019: an official in that Department of Health warns that ‘Unilateral publication of the Agreement, in the absence of confirmation from the IMO that it is satisfied with the final text, would represent a serious breach of trust.’

We still do not know which civil servant authorised that initial leak.

It beggars belief that in the seven months from the time that the revelations appeared in Village Magazine (October 2020), and the case being raised to a criminal investigation (April 2021), that the most senior civil servant in the country – with responsibilities deriving from the OSA including internal breaches – does not appear to have conducted an internal inquiry.

Bear in mind that if a junior official leaks a confidential file it is usually career suicide, and potentially results in criminal charges.

I therefore previously argued that it is reasonable to assume that no junior official leaked the document, and that authorisation came from Fraser himself.

It is important to emphasise that Martin Fraser was one of three Civil Service Commissioners with certain legal powers vested in him that exceed even the Taoiseach of the day.

The logic underpinning such formidable powers is that they are responsible for the preservation of the institutions, statute and assets of the State beyond the life of any government. Hence the concept of a ‘permanent’ government and its daunting power.

With such power arrives commensurate responsibility. It became apparent in my dialogue with members of the Garda investigative team that Martin Fraser had not conducted an internal probe, and his role was never under investigation.

On legal advice I withdrew my statement and was advised that the matter would return to the Oireachtas for clarification and investigation.

The Duties of the Oireachtas

Now that the DPP has ruled that Leo Varadkar has no case to answer the matter comes back to the Oireachtas, which ought to clarify the following points before Martin Fraser departs for London. He should be compelled to explain:

  • Why he failed to conduct an internal investigation into the leaked and confidential contract, either in the seven months before the Gardai gave it criminal status or since.
  • If Martin Fraser was indeed responsible for the release of the document, why he didn’t, as cabinet secretary, inform the cabinet. Further to this, it should be asked how and when the cabinet first learned that the contract had been leaked, and was this only through the Village Magazine article.
  • How it is that a Garda investigation spanning eighteen months seemingly never examined the role of Martin Fraser given the strong likelihood the document was released from his Department.

This affair has set a very damaging precedent whereby the habitual violation of the OSA becomes a risk to the security of the State in the event of future leaks. The DPP decision that Leo Varadkar has no case to answer suggests that sensitive documents may now be casually disseminated.

The Oireachtas needs to determine, once and for all, on whose authority the contract moved from the Department of Health to the Taoiseach’s Department.

Mr Fraser should be directly questioned as to whether he authorised that step, using his higher powers as head of the civil service, and commissioner, to demand the release of the document from the then Secretary General of the Department of Health, Jim Breslin to his own Department of the Taoiseach. Mr Breslin would have been obliged to release the document to his superior in the civil service chain-of-command.

Moreover, the DPP’s decision makes it imperative for the Oireachtas to clarify who is responsible for a breach of the OSA.

Leo may be off the hook, but important issues surrounding the affair remain opaque. The fundamental matter to be addressed is who precisely within the civil service authorised the initial leak of the document to Leo Varadkar.

It is quite simply bizarre that Martin Fraser – without previous diplomatic experience in the Department of Foreign Affairs – was appointed ambassador to our most sensitive and prestigious embassy at a time when a criminal probe into a leaked document remained unconcluded; in a matter over which he held overarching responsibility.

Bernadette Gorman was a civil servant for twenty years and held statutory powers. She worked as an Inspector and a trainer of Inspectors.

Feature Image: (c) Daniele Idini.

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About Author

Bernadette Gorman joined the civil service in 1981 having earned an Arts degree in UCD. She worked primarily as an inspector with statutory powers.

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