CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I want to thank the Taoiseach, the Leader of the Green Party, my party colleagues, colleagues in Fianna Fáil and Independent TDs for their words of support tonight.
I want to restate my apology to the House. I am sorry my actions gave rise to tonight’s motion. I accept responsibility for them and accept that responsibility alone. While my motivations were sound, the manner in which I conducted myself was not. I regret it and have learned from it.
This is the first time that I have faced a motion of confidence in my career. It forces you to reflect on decisions you have made, and things you could have done differently and will do differently in future.
Ceann Comhairle, we all know why Sinn Féin has put down this motion. It keeps this story in the public eye for another week.
It distracts from other issues they would rather not talk about.
Sinn Féin will defend the indefensible when it involves themselves. But they will not forgive an error of judgement when it involves anyone else.
The truth is that for them politics is a just game, every flash of outrage, every passionate speech, every tear choked back is a tactical move. Their spokespeople are articulate, confident and totally insincere.
When we make politics a game we devalue public life and let down the people we are meant to be serving. We are all guilty of it on occasion. I believe many opposite are guilty of it tonight.
I want to say a few things for the record.
The document was the terms of an agreement between Government and a representative body, it was not a contract or a collective agreement in the normal sense. Yes, there were multiple changes made between the time of announcement and publication, however, these were not significant, generally technical in nature and did not require Cabinet approval. My decision to share the document with the then President of the NAGP had no impact on them.
As I said last week, I spoke to the former President of the NAGP on the weekend the story broke on three occasions. First, a call from me to him on that Friday night when headlines appeared on-line. Second, a call from me to him on Saturday to try to ascertain the date on which I posted the document for my statement. And third, contact from him about a statement the former officers of the NAGP were planning to issue. I said I did not want to direct or advise him but did make some factual observations. I want to confirm that we have not been in contact in the nine days since.
I want to state categorically, the error in providing the document to Dr O Tuathil, notwithstanding my good reasons, was my own. He is blameless in this regard.
He is responsible only of over-stating the nature of his relationship with me and his influence, and for sending some messages that were offensive and inappropriate. Having said that, Ceann Comhairle, there are few in this House or across the land who would not be embarrassed about the content of messages they have sent to friends or co-workers believing them to be private or confidential.
Dr O Tuathil is a good person, a good doctor, an effective advocate for general practice and for people and patients, especially during the pandemic. I hope that can continue. He is someone who is genuinely committed to providing basic healthcare to those who need it the most in his charity work – homeless people, members of the Traveller community, Roma, migrants. I know that will continue.
Because some people believed he was close to me they treated him as a pawn and then made him collateral damage. This was raw politics at its most cruel.
As Deputies know by now, there is more to this story than the sharing of a confidential document.
I want to speak about that for a moment.
Our democracy is strong, but we are not immune from the corrosive forces being experienced in other established democracies – fake news, conspiracy theories, the far right, the far left, unregulated fringe publications and unverified social media. Grievances, score-settling and smears masquerading as journalism, activism or some sort of anti-corruption crusade.
I ask Deputies in this House to reflect on your engagement with these forces. By giving them your name, by repeating their claims, you give them legitimacy and diminish this House.
I want to put on the record of the House that many of the claims made about me were trumped up or made up. Yesterday’s article was just one example of this. It alleged ten encounters many of which simply did not happen and could not have happened as I was in Brussels on two occasions, Barcelona on one, out of Dublin on another, or demonstrably doing Government business.
It claimed four meetings with Minister Donohoe and Minister Harris which also never happened. All easily verified and checked if the truth mattered. But truth didn’t matter and wasn’t the objective.
Last week I was asked to give a full and detailed account of my actions to Dáil, and to set out the timelines. I have done so.
As I said previously, my guiding principle today is the same as it was when I first entered political life. To serve my country to the best of my ability. To make a difference while I have an opportunity. To deal with issues which affect the very future of our nation, like Covid-19 and Brexit, and also to build a better society for us all post-pandemic.