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At least 10 times not 2 or 3

Statement from Village, 9 November 2020

The cardinal political sin is lying to Parliament. It is a resigning matter for a Minister to lie to the Dáil.

Village submits evidence below that suggests the Dáil has been lied to on what is currently an important and topical issue.

In his Statement and replies to questions in the Dáil last Tuesday (3 November), Tánaiste Leo Varadkar defended his ostensibly illegal transfer to a friend of a confidential contract, by then a matter of serious political and ethical concern and scrutiny, on the basis of his “motivation”. 

The central part of what he called his “defence” was that he transferred the document to Dr Matt Ó Tuathail with the motive to advance the public interest, to sow harmony: “to get the [GP-contract] deal done and ensure it secured universal acceptance across the GP community”.  

There are several problems with this.

 a) the recipient Ó Tuathail, head of an organisation that was a rival to the IMO, has said he intended to “destroy” the IMO, and would use the document to take “the wind from [the IMO’s] sails, especially with 17 roadshows to go!!”.  

b) it seems strange if Varadkar was acting in good faith to promote government policy to unite feuding doctors’ groups, albeit covertly,  that he waited for his mate to approach him rather than doing anything at all of an overt nature to foster that unity.

But this piece is not about how the transfer was not done with the intention of advancing the public interest, it is about what the transfer was. Its motivation was a favour for a friend.  A friend who was closer than Varadkar says.

Village has contradicted, and can contradict, much more of what the Tánaiste has said, and for a magazine that generally avoids concerns about anyone’s social life it is discomfiting to be analysing anyone’s socialising, but fair-minded observers will accept that the issue of his friendship was the central one in the defence the Tánaiste himself made.

As part of this defence the Tánaiste told Pearse Doherty TD in the Dáil of his relationship with O’Tuathail:

“Yes, we are friends. However, there are friends and there are friends. We are not close friends. Dr Ó Tuathail is the kind of friend I would meet two or three times a year, probably at a drinks reception or through overlapping social circles. Otherwise he would have been in touch with me about medical matters such as Safetynet, the charity he works for through which GPs provide medical care to the homeless. I have had some involvement in that. We are not best mates or anything like that”.

Speaking of O’Tuathail the Tánaiste stated: “Someone who is known to me, who is a friend but not a close friend, made out to various people that he was closer to me than he was”.

And he said, “This is somebody who is not a close friend but is a friend. He is in my wider social circle”.  

He then referred to just two meetings in the last year which is not the period for which Village has evidence. Note also that we are looking only at that part of his statement that dealt with meetings not contacts.

So in summary the Tánaiste has solemnly told the Dáil he met Ó Tuathail “two or three times a year”. And this was particularly relevant for it characterised their relationship: Ó Tuathail was “the kind of friend I would meet two or three times a year”. 

So is this the truth?

Village here shows evidence by way of screenshotted WhatsApp exchanges (and one iMessage) between Chay Bowes and Matt Ó Tuathail and other independently verifiable evidence of at least 10 meetings between Ó Tuathail and the then-Taoiseach, around the relevant period in 2019 when the document was leaked and when favours – such as Ó Tuathail, personally, cheerleading for Varadkar – were possibly being done for Varadkar as a quid pro quo  for the leak. 

There is no reason to think this is anything like an exclusive list. 

The Tánaiste himself in his Dáil statement referred to “Christmas drinks” with Ó Tuathail within the period.

Bowes has told Village that he met O’Tuathail and Varadkar along with Matt Barrett and others once during the period, at an uncertain date during the summer of 2019 in The Taphouse pub in Ranelagh, in the presence of two gardaí; and Darragh Bowes his son confirms picking Bowes up after the evening and discussing it. 

Ó Tuathail and Varadkar also met at a festival on 29 June 2019 and there is ample evidence of this on the web and indeed in recent newspaper articles and the original Village piece.

These were not included in the trove of WhatsApp exchanges (and iMessages) Village has obtained.

Of course everyone knows that only a fraction of our social meetings with any individual are likely to be recorded in writing. In this case readers will make allowance for the fact there are definitely other meetings (three of which have just been described) but also that the trove of WhatsApp messages sent by Ó Tuathail is likely not to even include all his WhatsApp or other written evidence of meetings, since Bowes received only a limited selection.

So Village has evidence of ten meetings in a year, seven evidenced by way of WhatsApp (and iMessage) communications some of which can be verified by independent research of the record and the media; and three verifiable entirely independently of Ó Tuathail.

Any of the Ministers pleading their diaries do not describe these meetings should attract scepticism. Ministers’ diaries notoriously do not describe social meetings, especially with friends who have a business angle. 

We have done some analysis of the time frames and are aware that, for example, the alleged lunchtime meeting on 30 June 2019 was on the same day as the then-Taoiseach went to Brussels.  We do not consider the meeting was impossible since a flight to Brussels takes 100 minutes and a car to the European Council from the airport only 15 minutes. 

We could not find evidence to disprove that any of the meetings took place. 

Dr Ó Tuathail is a well-respected medical practitioner and prominent commentator on medical issues including the crucial issue of Covid-19, whose views have been sufficiently respected to feature regularly in commentary on RTÉ and Newstalk. By the same token it is clear he was strangely keen to ‘big up’ his relationship with the Taoiseach to advance his business appeal to Bowes. 

And Ó Tuathail’s attention to detail can clearly be deficient: this is a man who seemed to think where he lived, Clonskeagh, was in Dublin 8.

 It is possible not all ten meetings took place as described. Readers will make their minds up as to whether there is any possibility there were just (around) two or three meetings.

Bowes and Village only received information for the period between 5 February 2019 and 21 October 2019 but the WhatsApp exchanges (and one iMessage) suggest a pattern of meetings on a scale different from that asserted by the Tánaiste. There is documentary evidence of at least seven meetings in eight and a half months. If we had had a longer trawl it is likely there would have been more in the course of the complete year. 

In any event there is indeed independent evidence of three more. That makes ten.

Village submits that a friendship with at least ten documented meetings in a year is very different, qualitatively different, from a friendship with only two or three meetings in a year. Readers will surely know from their own relationships whether they would describe friends who they typically meet ten times a year in the same way they describe friends who they typically meet two or three times a year (and Mr Varadkar thought it important to tell the Dáil he had only met Matt Ó Tuathail twice in the last year).

The Tánaiste has lied to the Dáil. His friendship with Matt Ó Tuathail was closer than described, the favour was therefore more unconscionable and the ‘public interest’ exceptions to the Official Secrets Act are even more difficult for the Tánaiste to ground if he attempts to avoid the allegation Village has made that he committed a crime under that and other Acts.

And there is more. 

The meetings are:

1) 5 February, 2019: Ó Tuathail claims to have met Varadkar and Simon Harris after rugby match 

2) 16 May 2019 – meeting Leo tomorrow

3) 07 June 2019 – meeting Leo tonight

4) 30 June 2019 meeting Leo and Paschal

5) 04 July 2019 Jenny Greene Gig with Leo and other Fine Gael heads 

6) 17 September dinner with Leo and Paschal

7) 21 October 2019 meeting Leo to discuss Votegate

8) Bowes himself corroborated by his son Darragh says he met Varadkar, Matt Ó Tuathail, Matt Barrett and others, for drinks in the Taphouse in Ranelagh

9) Widely available photographic evidence O’Tuathail was at Dublin’s Pride festival on 29 June 2019

10) Christmas drinks 2018 or 2019 referred to by Varadkar himself in Dáil statement

These are the meetings:

5 February, 2019: Ó Tuathail claims to have met Varadkar and Simon Harris after rugby match

Maitiú Ó Tuathail says, in a WhatsApp message dated 5 February, 2019, that he met then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and then Health Minister Simon Harris after the Ireland-England rugby match in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. He goes on to say he will be protesting in town – the protest Varadkar tried to use as evidence to illustrate he wasn’t as close to Ó Tuathail as the GP claimed

16 May, 2019: ‘Meeting Leo tomorrow’

Maitiú Ó Tuathail in a WhatsApp message dated 16 May, 2019, claims to be meeting Leo Varadkar the following day at an uspecified location

7 June, 2019: ‘Meeting Leo tonight’

Maitiú Ó Tuathail in a WhatsApp message dated 7 June, 2019, claims to be meeting Leo Varadkar that night and asks whether there have been any developments with Community Hospital Ireland, a nonprofit he was involved with, along with Chay Bowes, at the time

30 June, 2019: ‘Meeting Leo and Paschal’

Maitiú Ó Tuathail writes in a 30 June, 2019 WhatsApp message, that he’s meeting Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe for lunch. He mentions he has an event later that evening with Safetynet, a charity with which he did regular work. Varadkar later went to Brussels – catching the flight would have been tight

4 July, 2019: Ó Tuathail says he’s attending Jenny Greene concert with Varadkar and ‘FG crew’

In a 4 July, 2019 WhatsApp message, Maitiú Ó Tuathail writes that he’s attending Jenny Greene’s Iveagh Gardens gig (on 7 July) with Varadkar and other Fine Gael members

17 September, 2019: Dinner with ‘Leo and Paschal’

In a 17 September, 2019 iMessage, Maitiú Ó Tuathail claims to be having dinner with Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. He suggests calling the recipient, Bowes, in an hour

21 October, 2019: Ó Tuathail claims to be meeting Varadkar to discuss Votegate

Maitiú Ó Tuathail writes in a 21 October, 2019 WhatsApp message that he’s meeting Varadkar to talk about Votegate, the Irish political scandal involving TDs voting in the Dáil on behalf of absent party colleagues. Ó Tuathail says he’ll ask Varadkar about Community Hospital Ireland, a nonprofit with which both Ó Tuathail and Bowes (the recipient of the WhatsApp) were involved