A FINE Gael TD who pulled a female colleague onto his lap during an early morning Dail debate on abortion said he is “mortified” by his actions.
Tom Barry TD (FG) has also admitted that he had been drinking before the incident – but insisted he wasn’t drinking excessively.
“I went to the Dail bar but I wasn’t drinking excessively. There was nothing pre-meditated, it was stupid, it was disrespectful,” he said.
Mr Barry said he was “sick to his stomach” that he had embarrassed his friend and colleague, Aine Collins TD (FG), his wife and family as well as his party.
The 44-year-old revealed his wife, Dr Kathy Quane, had taken a dim view of the matter.
“I spoke to my wife this morning and all she said to me was: ‘You big eejit.’ I feel so embarrassed over this,” he added.
Mr Barry, a married father of three, said he was “shocked” that the incident was being seen as sexist when it had been intended, albeit foolishly, as horseplay.
“It should never have happened. I would be the very first one to say that.
“I feel very upset that it is being described as that (sexist). I didn’t intend to offend anyone and I can’t offer any excuse other than to put it down to stupidity, naivety and inexperience,” he said.
“Something like this has never happened to me before and I can promise will never happen again.
“I consider Aine Collins a good friend, I have apologised and she has accepted my apology,” he said.
The incident, which occurred at 2.40am yesterday during the Protection of Life Pregnancy Bill debate, prompted the National Women’s Council to describe Irish politics as “a woman-unfriendly place” and say that all political chambers should be free from sexist behaviour.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny refused to comment about the matter during a visit to Cork yesterday morning.
“I have not seen the incident and therefore I am not going to comment on it,” Mr Kenny said.
“I didn’t see it and I have no comment . . . it is a very serious debate and obviously we have had more discussion about the (abortion) bill in question than any other bill in probably the last 40 years.”
Last night, Fine Gael stressed that the party did not view the incident as “horseplay”.
“I wish to make it clear that the instinctive characterisation of the incident as ‘horseplay involving two people’ does not reflect how Fine Gael views this kind of behaviour having seen the footage,” FG general secretary Tom Curran said.
“One deputy’s actions were unwelcome to another deputy. If it happened in any other workplace, it would be unacceptable.
“That it happened on the floor of Leinster House makes it more so.”
Despite Mr Barry’s public apology, he was also lectured to by senior party officials about the incident.
“It was such a stupid, stupid thing to do,” he said.
“There are absolutely no excuses and I am mortified for my friend, Aine Collins, my family, my friends and my party.”
He said the cornerstone of his political career has been treating people with respect and he counts Ms Collins, who is herself married with three children, as a good friend and a highly respected colleague.
The Cork East TD, who was elected in 2011, said he was “shocked” by the footage.
“I don’t want to say anything that would be seen to be trying to excuse what happened or that would seem to put a qualification on my apology. It was absolutely inappropriate what happened. However, such an incident has never happened before and I can promise will never happen again.”
The farmer and agri-business executive said such incidents should never happen in the workplace, let alone the national parliament.
However, it has emerged that the 44-year-old politician had just three hours sleep over the previous 36 hours.
“I had travelled to the Dail from Cork for the debate but, unfortunately, the fire alarm had gone off several times in the city centre hotel where I was staying so I ended up being awake for most of the night,” he said.
The first term Cork TD had also been under considerable pressure, with his constituency clinic being repeatedly picketed by pro-life campaigners as he was seen as one of the strongest supporters of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s legislative proposals.
Last year, he was the target of death threats over cuts to health and social welfare spending.
Mr Barry had been in the Dail for over 20 hours when, as Ms Collins (43) apparently commented about the temperature, he pulled her on to his lap for a few seconds.
The incident, captured on Dail TV, was subsequently posted on the internet.
Dail TV footage shows other TDs including Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney looking on in apparent bewilderment.
NWCI official Eoin Murray said what happens next is entirely up to Ms Collins but he said all political parties had to ensure that political chambers were absolutely free from sexist behaviour.