| 10.6°C Dublin

A shocking 'laps' of judgment in the Dail

THIS is the moment a male TD pulled a female colleague onto his lap and patted her backside during the Dail debate on abortion.

There was widespread condemnation of Tom Barry today after he engaged in what has been described as "horseplay" with Fine Gael colleague Aine Collins.

But there's also outrage at his party's attempt to play down the incident which was captured on the Oireachtas television feed.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald told the Herald: "It shouldn't have happened in a work place. It was silly and inappropriate."

The incident shows Mr Barry pull the Cork woman onto his lap and hold her there for several seconds. As she gets up to walk away he pats her backside.



Eoin Murray of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) said: "All political parties are trying to encourage more women to get involved in politics. If we want to make politics a woman-friendly place, any sexist incident needs to be thoroughly investigated."

A video of the incident spread across the internet today causing outrage.

Deputy Barry later released a statement admitting his actions had been "disrespectful and inappropriate".

He said he'd apologised to Deputy Collins.

Fine Gael attempted to play down the incident which occurred around 3am while TDs were preparing for a crucial vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

A spokesperson for the party said: "It was silly and probably shouldn't have happened. The two deputies are good friends and there was no malice involved."

The spokesperson added that Ms Collins was "not in the least bit offended".

"She saw it for what was, in the moment, just a piece of silliness."

However, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin described it as "completely inappropriate behaviour that just sums up the shambles of last night's Dail sitting".

"There was absolutely no need to try to rush this important legislation through the House in such a frenzied and chaotic fashion, when it could easily be given the space for proper and professional debate," he told the Herald.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney who was chatting with Junior Minister Tom Hayes (both pictured above right) appears to laugh at the TDs. A spokesperson for Minister Coveney did not respond to queries but Mr Hayes told the Herald that they were "discussing business".

"We had several things to discuss in the department. I could even tell you what we were talking about. I know nothing about it," he said.

Deputy Barry, a TD for Cork East, voted in favour of the Bill after writing to the Papal Nuncio to seek assurances he wouldn't be ex-communicated from the Catholic Church.

The NWCI today condemned any behaviour that discouraged woman from taking part in politics.

Eoin Murray, who co-ordinates the Women in Decision-Making & Politics project, said: "Any sexist incident sends a message to women that unprofessional behaviour is acceptable in politics.

"There is a risk that when things like this happen, when women look at the political culture in Ireland, they get turned off. Unless we change the culture we won't get more women into politics."

The Irish Congress Trade Unions has called for training for members of the Dail to address the 'boys club' culture.

"The first order of business after the summer break should be training," said Esther Lynch, legal and legislative officer of ICTU.