Tuesday 25 September 2018

Varadkar pulls out of scheduled event in the wake of his attack on media

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and United States President Donald J. Trump. Photo: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and United States President Donald J. Trump. Photo: Getty Images

Shona Murray and Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pulled out of a scheduled event this morning in the wake of his attack on the media.

Mr Varadkar was due to face reporters at the long awaited sod-turning for the redevelopment of O'Devaney Gardens in Dublin.

A notice sent to media outlets yesterday flagged his participation in a photo opportunity alongside Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

A fresh notice has now being issued and no longer lists Mr Varadkar as an attendee.  

However, the Taoiseach is due in the Dáil at midday.

This comes after the Taoiseach has launched a scathing attack against Irish journalists saying he had 'sympathy' for the current US administration in its animosity towards the media.

Mr Varadkar was speaking to 20 Irish Americans in New York City at the home of the Irish consulate Ciaran Madden yesterday.

The current US administration has called the media the 'enemy of the people' and journalists are now regularly the target of ire and verbal abuse at rallies for Donald Trump.

Five media workers were shot at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapoplis.

“It was very murky territory to get in to; everyone felt really awkward” said one of those present at the event.

"It was the part where he agreed with Trump that was most shocking; although I'm pretty sure he didn't name Trump; just said 'the current administration'", they told Independent.ie.

The lunch involved a round-table discussion with the Taoiseach answering questions from invitees who were described as "young Irish people who are doing interesting things in New York."

It involved men and women people from the acting world, advertising and several from the tech industry.

Mr Varadkar criticised Irish political correspondents who he said spent more time "gossiping" about unimportant issues.

He said: "Twenty years ago you’d have a few journalists in Leinster House who acted with dedication."

"Now they’re all trying to compete with each other for gossip, and there are more of them than there are TDs", he said.

“It was the way he said it that really shocked me” said the source.

He said "they spend more time worrying that one or the other will get a story that they won’t have."

And essentially 'journalists spent more time gossiping and not checking stories', said one of those present.

He also then said there were "never any consequences for those journalists who got things wrong."

"I think he was really trying to point out how bad things are with the twenty-four hour news cycle and that journalists are under so much pressure these days" said one of those at the table.

"I also think he was trying to be a bit funny but ended up being socially awkward; but you could see how uncomfortable everyone was", said the attendee.

In response, a government spokesperson told Independent.ie that the conversation has been 'taken out of context' and that it was a 'private' 'wide ranging' discussion.

"The Taoiseach believes that a free, fair and balanced press is the cornerstone of our democracy", they said.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Varadkar must clarify the "disparaging" remarks.

She said: "The remarks as reported are very troubling and the Taoiseach should clarify and explain what he said.

"The freedom of the press to write, broadcast and report freely in the public interest and to do so without coercion, without pressure and without undue influence is vitally important.

"Of course, this flows both ways and the media is not above criticism and must be able to stand over its reporting."

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said: "The Taoiseach may believe that 'a free, fair and balanced press is the cornerstone of our democracy', but his deeds and moral leadership carry more weight.

"No-one doubts that Ireland's links to the United States of America are hugely important, and that such trips to New York are strategically valuable to Ireland's interests.

"But whatever about criticising the media when at home on the campaign trail, for Ireland's head of government to attack the Irish media when on a diplomatic and strategic trade mission is wholly inappropriate."

Seamus Dooley, the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists has called on the Taoiseach to clarify his comments.

He said in a statement this morning: "He said: "Respect for freedom of expression is a core value of the UN.

"Attributed comments are damaging to Ireland's reputation as a modern democracy, given Trump's views on press freedom."

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy defended the Taoiseach and said his comments were 'taken out of context'.

Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One, he said: “From what I’ve seen about what he’s reported to have said I think he’s been taken out of context...I’m sure he’ll get an opportunity to clarify if it’s raised in the Dail later on.

"I know in clarifying them he’ll be making a very robust defence of an independent media because that’s what he believes."

A spokesperson for Mr Varadkar told Independent.ie that he was not able to attend this morning’s event in O’Devaney Gardens as his flight back from the United States was delayed.

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