LEFT-WING TD Richard Boyd Barrett failed yesterday to condemn his party's description of gardai as "thugs" for their treatment of protesters at the Labour conference.
It came after groups of protesters twice breached a garda security barrier outside the Labour Party conference in NUI Galway last weekend.
Gardai later confirmed that pepper spray had been used in response.
The Socialist Workers Party, which counts Mr Boyd Barrett among its members, said on its website that the "only thugs on show in Galway were using pepper spray and wearing uniforms".
Mr Boyd Barrett yesterday refused to condemn his party's criticism of gardai as "thugs".
"I didn't see the particular incident so I can't say. But the guards looked fairly relaxed when I got there, so at that stage they weren't behaving like thugs anyway," he said.
The Dun Laoghaire TD went on to criticise the gardai for their use of pepper spray even though he was "considerably further back" from the charge on the security cordon and did not see this happening either.
"From the descriptions I heard, it was somewhat unwarranted and excessive for the gardai to resort to pepper spray," he said.
A garda spokesman declined to respond to this criticism, saying it did not comment on operational matters.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday criticised the actions of some of the protesters outside the Labour Party conference -- and any politician who would support such tactics.
"I do not subscribe to the person or persons in Galway who spat at gardai and who challenged security officials at the Labour Party Conference. That is not the kind of protests we should be associated with.
"I disagree fundamentally with this sort of protest and those who support this type of protest in public office deserve to be challenged on it," he said.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has also publicly challenged TDs such as Mr Boyd Barrett who were involved in organising the protest to "condemn the violent activity that took place and disassociate themselves from it".
But Mr Boyd Barrett said Mr Gilmore was trying to distract from the more fundamental fact that 5,000 people came from all over country to protest at the betrayals of Labour.
Mr Boyd Barrett, who is also a member of People Before Profit and the United Left Alliance, is now going to get the opportunity to question Mr Kenny directly in the Dail every week.
He is taking over the role at Leader's Questions from Joe Higgins as part of an agreement between the "technical group" of opposition TDs.
He said he already knew what question he was going to ask Mr Kenny tomorrow.
"I'll certainly be raising the impact of austerity measures," he said.