Accusations about Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s fitness to go on air were branded grossly unfair and untrue tonight.
A string of Cabinet ministers offered a number of explanations for the heavily criticised performance – from Mr Cowen’s documented sinus problems to being hoarse and a poorly prepared broadcast studio.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern described the Opposition accusations as “typical Fine Gael”.
“They have a history over the years of playing the man instead of the ball,” Mr Ahern said.
“It seems nowadays we can’t have a rational discussion about issues without people going off on a complete tangent, which I have to say is not true and is not fair. I think this is grossly unfair and grossly exaggerated.”
Severe criticism of the Taoiseach in political circles began initially with a posting on Twitter by Fine Gael transport spokesman Simon Coveney.
He described the radio interview as uninspiring and that Mr Cowen “sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested”.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin hit back at the opposition TD, saying: “I would have expected better from Simon.”
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said he was shocked that Mr Cowen’s on-air delivery was the issue and not Government policy.
“I thought that the content was very good. The Taoiseach dealt with very serious issues. I’m absolutely astounded that we’re now here doing interviews about the tone of his voice than the actual content,” Mr Dempsey said.
The minister suggested there was an underhand agenda at play, promoted by Fine Gael.
Defence Minister Tony Killeen said the poor sound on the interview was more to do with the broadcast set-up than the Taoiseach’s delivery.
“A lot of people might not realise that the studio that was in operation this morning was a corner of the restaurant in the hotel where people had tables very close by, were having their breakfast, the clattering of knives, forks, teapots and stuff,” Mr Killeen said.
“I was at a table fairly close by and the background noise in the so-called studio was, I thought, very distracting and was a factor.”
Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin accused the Taoiseach’s critics of demanding style over substance.
“What’s not good is that senior politicians like Simon Coveney and (Labour’s) Roisin Shortall would talk entirely about the style of the interview rather than the substance,” she said.
“What is happening here is that a man is being knocked because he was hoarse, groggy and congested early in the morning, which happens to an awful lot of people, particularly to the first person you are speaking to.
“It’s not about the way he tells them, it’s about what he’s saying.”
Dick Roche, junior minister for European affairs, had breakfast with the Taoiseach shortly after the 8.50am interview.
“I saw no evidence of a man who was anything but clear and coherent,” Mr Roche said.