Gardaí investigating the leak by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar of a confidential draft of a new GP contract are expected to submit a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions in the next two months at the conclusion of their investigation.
It will then be a decision for the DPP whether to charge Mr Varadkar with any offence, although gardaí are likely to issue a recommendation with their report.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Ministers backed Mr Varadkar on Sunday after it was reported that gardaí have upgraded their preliminary inquiry into the leak by Mr Varadkar in April 2019 to a formal investigation.
Privately some senior Government figures say it will be politically damaging for Mr Varadkar, for Fine Gael and for the Government to have a file with the DPP about a serving Government Minister.
A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said: “The gardaí have not been in contact with the Tánaiste about this matter. Last month, on foot of media reports, his solicitors contacted the Garda 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.”
The investigation relates to revelations, published in Village magazine last year, that Mr Varadkar, who was then taoiseach, improperly leaked a confidential copy of a proposed new general practitioner (GP) contract to a friend, Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.
The contract contained details of the deal the government had provisionally agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation. At the time Dr Ó Tuathail was president of the National Association of GPs (NAGP) , a rival organisation representing GPs that is now defunct.
Mr Varadkar apologised for his actions in the Dáil, and survived a Sinn Féin vote of no confidence. He insisted he had not broken the law, and defended his actions by saying he had circulated the contract to encourage NAGP members to agree to it.
It is understood the focus for gardaí is establishing whether a criminal offence was committed under the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018.
The Act was introduced three years ago to implement the recommendations of the Planning Tribunal and to bring Ireland’s anti-corruption laws in line with international standards. It greatly strengthened anti-corruption legislation and widened the categories of activity that could be deemed a corrupt offence.
Under section 7 of the Act any Irish official who uses confidential information to corruptly obtain “a gift, consideration or advantage for himself or herself or for any other person” is guilty of an offence.
The Act requires the prosecuting authorities to prove there was an attempt to give or receive a corrupt quid pro quo in exchange for the leaking of the document.
Conviction under Section 7 carries a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison on conviction in the District Court and 10 years on conviction in the Circuit Court. Unlike the Official Secrets Act, the 2018 legislation does not exclude members of the Dáil from the definition of an “official” .
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said Mr Varadkar should "absolutely not" step aside from Cabinet pending completion of the inquiry.
“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.”
Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said Fianna Fáil had full confidence in the Tánaiste.
Sinn Féin TD Mairéad Farrell said: “It is absolutely wrong and very, very clear that that type of culture has no place in our society.”