Sinn Fein has called on Leo Varadkar to resign or be sacked after a Garda inquiry into his leaking of a confidential document was upgraded to a criminal probe.
Mary Lou McDonald called the leak of a doctors’ pay agreement by the then-Taoiseach to his friend “an abuse of power” and said “politically this can’t be tolerated”.
The Tanaiste has admitted that in April 2019, while he was Taoiseach, he sent a copy of a doctors’ pay deal between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to his friend, Dr Maitiu O Tuathail.
Dr O Tuathail was head of the rival organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), at the time.
Ms McDonald said: “This was a political stroke, pure and simple. It was an abuse of power by the then-Taoiseach designed to give advantage to a friend. This was about doing favours for insiders. Politically this can’t be tolerated.
“The whole matter is now being investigated by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI) and the Gardai need to be allowed to do their job.
“However our position remains as it was in November. The Fine Gael leader needs to go.”
Mr Varadkar has apologised for leaking the document, but has denied breaking any laws.
At the weekend it emerged that Gardai examining the case had upgraded their inquiry to a criminal investigation.
The NBCI is examining if there has been a breach of anti-corruption legislation, or the Official Secrets Act.
Ms McDonald said on Monday that Mr Varadkar should have been stood down when the story first broke last November, and that his position remains untenable.
She said: “Last November we tabled a motion of no confidence in the Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar because we believed that he should have been sacked and everything that has happened since then has proven that we were correct.
“He has only remained in office because Fianna Fail, the Greens and a number of independents are keeping him there.
“He gave a cock and bull story to the Dail last November and has been forced to change his story repeatedly as more and more information has come to light.”
The former Taoiseach has told the Dail he gave a copy of a pay agreement between the State and a doctors’ organisation to a rival group of GPs.
The Director of Public Prosecutions will decide whether or not any laws may have been broken and whether or not criminal charges are appropriate.
Mr Varadkar has denied any wrongdoing and offered to meet with gardai to answer any questions they may have.
His spokesman said: “The gardai have not been in contact with the Tanaiste about this matter.
“Last month, on foot of media reports, his solicitors contacted the gardai to confirm his willingness to meet them and provide a statement.
“His legal advice is that he has committed no offence and looks forward to the matter being concluded.”
But the pressure on Mr Varadkar is increasing, and not just from the Opposition.
Ogra Fianna Fail, the youth wing of Mr Varadkar’s coalition partners, has called on him to step aside until the investigation concludes in a letter to the Government Chief Whip, Jack Chambers.
Ogra Fianna Fail president Tom Cahill said: “We are not interested in the internal politics of Fine Gael, nor do we believe this matter is relevant to the stability of Government.
“We are concerned that the second highest ranking member of our Government is under Garda investigation for the leaking of a pay agreement.
“We believe that it is appropriate that a senior member of Cabinet, who is under investigation by the Gardai, should temporarily stand aside pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Mr Varadkar leads the Fine Gael party and is himself a qualified doctor.
He is Enterprise Minister in the current coalition Government.
The document on the deal between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) was passed to his friend, Mr O Tuathail, in April 2019.
Mr O Tuathail was then president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).
Mr Varadkar apologised for his actions, while he was Taoiseach, in the Dail but said he had not broken the law.
He said he had circulated the contract to encourage NAGP members to agree to it.
Garda headquarters said it does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Detectives from the NBCI, under the direction of Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, had been conducting “preliminary inquiries” into whether an offence may have been committed under the Official Secrets Act.
It is understood the inquiry is an investigation.
The Government won a confidence motion in Mr Varadkar on the issue in November.
The Tanaiste said he recognised his actions were “not best practice”, but insisted he had nothing personally to gain from the leak and said he did so to secure backing for the deal from all GPs.
The Health Minister recently said he would co-operate with a Garda investigation if asked.
Stephen Donnelly said he was not made aware of a complaint from a whistleblower in his department that prompted the inquiry.