SUNDAY Independent editor Aengus Fanning last night apologised for any offence caused to the disabled and to athletes participatingin the Paralympics by an article written by journalist Mary Ellen Synon.
Mr Fanning acknowledged the article by the columnist had caused ``great distress to many people, particularly to the disabled and also to those athletes participating in the Paralympics.''
In a statement last night, Mr Fanning said: ``I wish to apologise sincerely to them, to our readers and to the many people who believe that the article was in poor taste and inappropriate.
``It has been said over the past few days that the terminology used was hurtful to disabled persons, and that the argument of the columnist was made in a manner which was demeaning of them. This was not my intention nor was it the intention of Miss Synon,'' added Mr Fanning.
``It is neither the policy nor the intention of the Sunday Independent to gratuitously offend public sensibilities.
``However, I fully accept that great offence was caused and I am happy to apologise for this,'' the editor said in the statement which was endorsed by Mary Ellen Synon.
Yesterday, the storm over the article continued unabated with callers to RTE's Liveline programme expressing anger at the article.
Independent Cork city councillor Con O'Leary called on health boards, councils, corporations and Government departments to withdraw all advertising from the country's biggest-selling broadsheet until the paper ran an apology for the column carried in some but not all of its editions of last Sunday.
Co-ordinator of the Forum of People with Disabilities, Donal Toolan, said the article gave permission for hatred and discrimination towards disabled people.
Fianna Fail Munster MEP Brian Crowley, himself disabled through partial physical paralysis, said the Synon article ``harks back to a day when disabled people were out of vision, out of sight, so therefore they couldn't upset, they couldn't embarrass and therefore they couldn't perturb someone who might come in contact with or encounter them.''
In the Dáil, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said anyone who criticises the people who take part in the Paralympics does not understand the effort they invest or the value of sport.
Fine Gael leader John Bruton said the comments seemed to devalue the achievements of the athletes merely because they cannot compete on the same level as able-bodied people.
Labour leader Ruairi Quinn asked the Taoiseach to condemn the ``elitist and social Darwinist observations made by some people in relation to the human spirit''.
Mr Ahern said everyone in the House joined in congratulation of all those involved in the Special Olympics ``which have been a great success''. The public outcry over the article was ``a big enough message'' to the Sunday Independent, added the Taoiseach.