Saturday 24 August 2019

Taoiseach to correct the Dáil record after his apology over 'sinning priest' jibe at Martin

Debate: Micheál Martin was compared to a sinning priest. Picture: Damien Eagers
Debate: Micheál Martin was compared to a sinning priest. Picture: Damien Eagers

Hugh O'Connell, Cormac McQuinn, Sarah MacDonald

Leo Varadkar will correct the Dáil record after he was forced into an embarrassing apology for comparing Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to a sinning priest.

Mr Varadkar had to apologise and withdraw the remarks on his way into a scheduled meeting with Church leaders at Dublin Castle after he was heavily criticised by members of the faith and Opposition politicians for remarks made in the Dáil on Wednesday.

Mr Varadkar compared Micheál Martin to a priest "who preaches from the altar, telling us to avoid sin, while secretly going behind the altar and engaging in any amount of sin himself".

The comments drew widespread condemnation, including from one of Mr Varadkar's own senators, John O'Mahony, who said they were "not acceptable".

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said Mr Varadkar should apologise to Mr Martin directly for an "unfortunate and quite ridiculous comment".

"I mean he says he's apologised to those who may have been offended. If he wants to apologise to Micheál Martin I'd imagine he'd go back where he made the comments and apologise to him there," Mr Cowen said.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar later confirmed that the Taoiseach would correct the Dáil record on Tuesday.

Mr Varadkar apologised prior to a meeting between the Government and representatives of almost 30 different churches and faith communities as part of a Church-State dialogue event at Dublin Castle.

"Yeah look I said something in the heat of a debate in the Dáil yesterday," he said.

"It was a rather bitter and personal debate on both sides but in doing so I offended a lot of people who I never intended to offend. I am sorry for that, I do apologise and I am going to withdraw the remarks.

"I was talking about the sin of hypocrisy. This is something that was said in the heat of a political debate. I have immense respect for priests, for the sacrifice they give really in the lives they lead and I have immense respect for people of faith."

Fianna Fáil rejected the contention that the remarks were in the context of a heated Dáil debate, pointing out that Mr Martin had merely asked about the Dunkettle Interchange road project in Co Cork.

The bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Alphonsus Cullinan, told RTÉ Radio One that he found the Taoiseach's comments "very hurtful".

A Co Tipperary parish priest said many priests were very upset with Mr Varadkar for "tarnishing us all with one brush in his snide remarks".

Fr Michael Toomey, of St Peter and St Paul's Church in Clonmel, thanked Mr Varadkar for his apology but said the comment had "caused great offence to many priests and people of faith in the Catholic Church and to others of no faith" who had been surprised by the episode.

"Priests are easy targets because of the past," the parish priest said.

Irish Independent

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