Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty has described the RTÉ Investigates' revelations around information gathered by the Department of Health about children with autism and their families as "shocking".

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, he said it was invasive, unethical and possibly illegal.

"What we had was the Department of Health playing private investigator, digging up dirt on parents who have already been put through the mill," the Donegal TD said, adding that this is something that has clearly been going on for many years.

Mr Doherty called for an independent investigation, akin to the Scally Inquiry, into the legal and ethical reasoning for this practice.

He also asked the Tánaiste if he was aware that this was happening during his time as Taoiseach, and earlier when he served as the Minister for Health.

Leo Varadkar described the report as worrying and said he has "no personal recollection" of being briefed on this practice during his time as minister.

Mr Varadkar said it does appear to be a "very serious" matter, but he is not aware of all the facts yet.

The Oireachtas Health Committee could hold an emergency meeting as early as tomorrow to discuss the the matter.

Several TDs, including Sinn Féin's David Cullinane, have called for the Committee to meet tomorrow in private.

The Committee is expected to seek an explanation from the acting Secretary General at the Department of Health, Robert Watt.

Mr Watt is likely to be asked to appear at the next public meeting of the Committee.

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Meanwhile, Inclusion Ireland, the national association for people with an intellectual disability, called for an investigation by the data Protection Commissioner over what it described as "a gross breach of trust" for families and children.

Lorraine Dempsey, interim CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said: "While we await the full details to be broadcast tonight, the details we've seen so far this morning constitute a gross breach of trust for families and autistic children.

"It is highly disturbing to think that sensitive information is being collated in this manner  when families are at a low ebb and seeking help from the State, to be potentially weaponised later during legal disputes."

She added: "We need a fully transparent investigation into this issue by the Data Protection Commissioner not least for the families affected."