Belfast Telegraph

Irish premier apologises for comments about Catholic priests

The comments were made during a leaders’ debate on the national development plan.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)

The Irish premier has been forced to apologise after comments during a political debate comparing his rival to a “sinning priest”.

The comments were made during a leaders’ debate on the national development plan on Wednesday, when Leo Varadkar compared opposition leader Micheal 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”.

When asked about the issue at a plenary meeting with churches and faith communities, Mr Varadkar rolled back: “Yeah, look I said something in the heat of debate in the Dail yesterday.

I was talking about the sin of hypocrisy but I'm not here to explain, I'm here to apologise and withdraw Leo Varadkar

“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 but I’m not here to explain, I’m here to apologise and withdraw.

“I have immense respect for priests and the sacrifice they give in the lives they lead and I have immense respect for people of faith, and it didn’t come out the way I intended it.”

When asked if he would apologise directly to the parliament, Mr Varadkar reiterated that he was apologising “here today”.

Mr Martin directly accused the Taoiseach of being “petty, silly and idiotic” in the debate, however the outrage and criticism against Mr Varadkar came swiftly after the debate ended, including from his own party and members of the Church.

Alphonsus Cullinane, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, told Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE that he found them to be “very hurtful, unfortunate comments”.

Independent member of parliament Mattie McGrath said the remarks were totally unacceptable.

“These remarks a gross offence against the hardworking and compassionate decency of the majority of Catholic priests, parish priests or not,” he said.

“It only highlights what many people feel about the Taoiseach, in that he appears to have no real sense of his political immaturity or the sheer childishness of his spin driven commentary.

“I am sure he thought it was a very witty remark at the time-unfortunately it wasn’t witty, it was just witheringly embarrassing for all who had the misfortune of hearing him.”

It was noted by many that the comments were made just one day before he attended an inter-faith plenary meeting, which brought together over 30 religious leaders from across the country, the Taoiseach admitted himself that the “timing was not the best”.

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to hold the meeting in aid of “build a new relationship between religion and the State in Ireland, a new covenant for the 21st Century”.

“The most recent census shows that almost one in 10 people registered here identify as having no religion.

“We see an increasing number of faiths being listed, and a genuine Republic has space for everyone,” Mr Varadkar said.

Before he began his opening speech, Mr Varadkar reiterated his apologies for the comments.

PA

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