Twenty Air Corps personnel have died prematurely since a whistleblower asked Leo Varadkar for help more than two years ago, the Dáil has heard.
According to joint Social Democrats leader Róisín Shortall, they are among a total of 86 premature deaths among Air Corps personnel.
Of these, 32 of them were under the age of 50, with “many” in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, she said.
The Dáil has previously heard research by Gavin Tobin, a former technician with the Air Corps, which has raised questions over the deaths.
Personnel like him, the Dáil has heard, were regularly exposed to chemicals while working at the Baldonnel Air Base at a time when they had little or no personal protective equipment.
The Air Corps remains accused of failing to protect its technicians from the effects of cancer-causing chemicals, with whistleblowers like Mr Tobin claiming decades of neglect has had a devastating effect on their health.
In January 2017, Mr Tobin contacted Mr Varadkar about his campaign to highlight issues around alleged exposure to dangerous chemicals and solvents in the Air Corps.
Mr Tobin asked him if he would contact him "in confidence" in relation to health screening for those who were allegedly exposed to chemicals while serving.
A few minutes after Mr Tobin sent his text on January 26, 2017, Mr Varadkar replied: “Hi Gavin, Cabinet Handbook doesn’t allow me to go behind the backs of other ministers or enter into confidence with someone else to exclude them.
“(I) signed an (sic) contract to observe Collective responsibility and cabinet confidentiality.” Deputy Shortall told the Dail today: “(Mr) Varadkar was contacted by an ex-Air Corps member in relation to the issue of premature deaths, which is very serious and needs urgent examination.
“There were 86 premature deaths recorded since the 1980s, including 32 personnel under the age of 50 with many in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
“Twenty have died since the 2017 contact was made.
“His response was to refer to the Cabinet handbook.” She then referenced the decision by Mr Varadkar to send a confidential document to a friend, Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.
The document he sent in April 2019 to the former president of what was a rival group to the Irish Medical Organisation, was the broad outline of a new GP contract that had been negotiated with the IMO and health chiefs.
Mr Varadkar has since accepted that sending the document to Dr Ó Tuathail was not “best practice” and was “an error”.
Ms Shortall added: “It’s not that he didn’t know the rules, it was that he decided not to abide by them in respect of the IMO document.” Mr Tobin told the Irish Examiner: “I asked Leo for help.
“He used the cabinet rule book as an excuse to not help me.
On the 2017 text, a government spokesperson told the Irish Examiner: “The Tánaiste gave a detailed account in the Dail last week explaining why he acted as he did under unique circumstances.
“Those circumstances were very different.’
A few weeks after the 2017 text exchange between Mr Varadkar and Mr Tobin, Micheál Martin addressed the then taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dail, describing Mr Tobin's allegations as a “very serious issue . . . which could represent a serious scandal”.