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'I regret it' Leo Varadkar says he has learned from leak controversy as he wins confidence motion by 92 votes to 65


Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/Julien Behal Photography/PA)

Leo Varadkar has won a Government motion of confidence in the discharge of his duties, by 92 votes to 65.

All Government Deputies voted in favour of the proposal tonight, tabled to counter a Sinn Féin motion of no-confidence that was tabled last week in the wake of revelations about the leak of a confidential document by Mr Varadkar when he was Taoiseach.

No Fianna Fáil TD broke ranks, although that party’s support of the Fine Gael leader had sparked dissension at a private meeting last week.

One of the prime critics then, Marc MacSharry TD, said he was voting confidence as an ‘empty formula,’ using the same phrase Eamon De Valera used in relation to the oath when leading Fianna Fáil into the Dáil for the first time.

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Instead the most pointed criticism of the current Taoiseach came from Tipperary Independent Mattie McGrath, who said Micheál Martin’s handling of the affair had been “feeble, inept and weak.”

The Greens also backed Mr Varadkar, amid claims that Sinn Féin was mounting a political stunt when country face the serious twin problems of Brexit and Covid-19.

Labour joined SF and other left-wing groupings in opposing the motion of confidence.

The two-hour debate failed to disclose any new facts about the original controversy or to puncture the Tánaiste’s claim last week that he had not similarly leaked before or since the April 2019 incident involving Maittiú Ó Tuathail of the now-defunct National Association of General Practitioners.

Opening the defence of Mr Varadkar, the Taoiseach said Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence had been based on a hope that “something would turn up” to help their aggressive political attack on the Government, which had been a “100 per cent cynical move.”

Nothing significant had changed since last week when Mr Varadkar had made a personal statement to the House on what was a legitimate point of public concern, he granted.

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But he had answer detailed questions at length and in substance.

“No one has demonstrated any personal gain from how the document was distributed and public policy was not adversely impacted. The Tánaiste has acknowledged his error,” he said, before using the rest of his time to praise the Budget and ongoing efforts to counter Covid-19.

He said he had “no interest in playing politics as usual, to which Sinn Féin is committed,” and saw no purpose in using his time to address the “ever-rising examples of that party ignoring basic ethical standards.”

But Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said no amount of mud-slinging by Fine Gael could alter the basic facts, while Leo Varakdar’s excuses were threadbare.

“His defences collapsed on the floor of the Dáil last week,” she said, while “the current Taoiseach stands idly by.”

A confidential draft contract had been leaked by Mr Varadkar to his friend, and the refusal of Taoiseach to hold the Fine Gael leader to account left a no-confidence motion as the only sanction available to us as an Opposition, she said.

“Predictably the Government responds with accusations, with name calling, and with spin.”

The old boys network and the cosy club was the culture that dominates Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, she said, and was why those parties failed workers and families, again and again.

Wrapping up the debate, Mr Varadkar restated his apology for his actions.

“My motivations were sound, the manner in which I conducted myself was not. I do regret it. And I have learned from it,” he said.

“This is the first time that I faced a motion confidence in my career. And it does force you to reflect on the decisions you made, and the things you could have done differently,” he said.

But he added: “We all know why Sinn Féin put down this motion. Simply to keep the story in the public eye for another week.”

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