Leo Varadkar should "absolutely not" stand aside as Tánaiste while gardaí investigate his leaking of a confidential document, a Fine Gael Minister has said.
Heather Humphreys has moved to strongly defend the Tánaiste, claiming his actions were in the public interest and he has fully explained himself to the Dáil.
Gardaí have now upgraded an investigation — into the leaking of a confidential contract by Mr Varadkar when he was Taoiseach — to a criminal inquiry.
Ms Humphreys, who will assume the role of justice minister when Helen McEntee takes maternity leave, said the leaking of the document by Mr Varadkar to his friend and then president of a rival medical organisation Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail was "an error of judgement".
"But we must remember very clearly here that what he did was in the interest of GPs, in the interest of the patient, and in the interest of the general public," Ms Humphreys said.
"He had nothing to gain from sharing that document, only to try and get a resolution to a long-standing issue over GP contracts, and I think it's important that we allow the gardaí to continue their investigations," she told RTÉ's.
Ms Humphreys added that the Tánaiste is willing to speak to the gardaí at any time on the matter.
Detectives from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation have moved to the stage where they have taken witness statements from key people at the centre of the affair and begun the process of gathering and analysing evidence.
A garda statement said that the organisation “did not comment on any ongoing investigations”.
It was the first time that Garda HQ used the word “investigations” as opposed to inquiries in relation to the matter. This is considered a deliberate decision by the authorities.
One garda source said: “We have gone beyond asking people what they know and making inquiries, to taking statements from witnesses and conducting an investigation.”
Part of the initial phase would also have been to examine the relevant legislation to determine if there were potential criminal offences.
Sources said the investigation will, as in the bulk of cases, result in the preparation of an investigation file to the DPP, who will decide if there is an offence and whether or not any charges should be brought.
Sources said it would be “rare” for gardaí not to make a recommendation in their files, though the “heat” surrounding the decision would be left with the DPP to make.