THE general secretary of Fine Gael has criticised party TD Tom Barry for his “unacceptable” and “inappropriate" actions in pulling a female party colleague onto his lap during the Dail abortion debate.
In a rare public statement, Tom Curran revealed that he had watched the footage of the incident, which has gone viral.
He insisted that the characterisation of the incident as “horseplay” by Fine Gael figures did not reflect how the party viewed it.
This morning, party officials described the incident as being "silly" and "clearly horseplay".
However this afternoon, Mr Curran said the party did not view it this way and and branded it as "unacceptable".
“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,” he said.
Mr Curran went on to say that Mr Barry’s apology to party colleague Aine Collins made it clear he understood the inappropriateness of his actions.
“We welcome his apology and the fact that Deputy Collins has accepted it,” he said.
It's understood both deputies will be spoken to "informally" by senior party officials over the incident.
Earlier today, Cork North East TD Tom Barry issued a public apology to party colleague Cork North West TD Aine Collins for pulling her onto his lap during the Dail debate on abortion in the early hours of this morning.
In the short statement, Mr Barry described his behaviour as “disrespectful” and apologised for his actions.
“What I did last night was disrespectful and inappropriate,” Mr Barry said.
“I have apologised to Aine Collins and she graciously and immediately accepted my apology. No excuses, I just shouldn’t have done it.”
The statement was released by the Fine Gael press office at approximately 11am as controversy surrounding the incident deepened.
Beforehand, party sources indicated that a “lack of heating” in Leinster House had led to the incident, which was captured on Dail cameras.
One source claimed that the heating had been switched off shortly after midnight. Yesterday was the warmest day of the year, but temperatures in the capital fell to 13 degrees overnight.
At approximately 3am, as TDs gathered to vote on an amendment, it’s understood Ms Collins approached Mr Barry and told him she was “freezing”. Mr Barry then joked he would warm her up. He then pulled her onto his lap briefly before Ms Collins got up from his lap and walked away.
Footage of the incident has since gone viral.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael has insisted that Ms Collins “has not taken any major offence”.
"It was a piece of silliness between two people who happen to be friends,” a party spokesperson said this morning.
“I've spoken to the female TD involved and she is not really offended. She saw it for what it was, in the moment, just a piece of silliness," he said.
However, the spokesperson admitted that the incident should not have occurred.
It’s understood Ms Collins told fellow party members afterwards that “it was a piece of nothing”.
"I don't think people make their best decisions at 3am in the morning when they have been in the 20th hour of their working day. It is hard to imagine this would happen at 10am in the morning," one political source said.
“Both she and Mr Barry were elected to the Dail for the first time in 2011. Both have supported the Government's abortion bill."