Taoiseach Brian Cowen denied today giving a live radio interview while drunk or hungover.
Mr Cowen was challenged over his handling of an RTÉ morning broadcast from his Fianna Fáil party’s annual get together ahead of the new Dáil term.
The opposition claimed the interview came on the back of a late night and prompted concerns over Mr Cowen’s ability to lead the country.
Questioned on his way into the second day of parliamentary party meetings in Galway, the Taoiseach denied alcohol was a factor in the heavily criticised performance.
“I’m sorry, absolutely not. I mean, that’s ridiculous,” the Taoiseach said.
“It’s not true at all, please.”
Mr Cowen said the nine-minute interview, live on RTÉ’s 'Morning Ireland' shortly before 9am, was a “good conversation”.
He also hit out at being questioned over his fitness to go on air, saying: “Really, that’s uncalled-for.”
Mr Cowen, who attended the Fianna Fáil party dinner last night, was beginning day two of his party’s annual pre-Dáil meeting at the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway city when he faced a barrage of criticism online and on air.
There has been ongoing criticism over Mr Cowen’s ability to communicate with the public in interviews during his time in office.
Michael Noonan, Fine Gael’s finance spokesman, led the criticism but insisted he was not making a personal attack on the Taoiseach or political point-scoring.
“I was listening to the interview. He certainly was a man who was coming at the interview at the end of a very late night,” Mr Noonan said.
“He was uninspiring. He certainly didn’t sound like man who was going to lead the country out of the problems it’s now in.”
The opposition spokesman also said late nights are part of professional politics.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin defended his party leader and the Taoiseach's interview performance, saying he was hoarse.
“I think, from a content perspective, I had no difficulty with the interview at all,” said Mr Martin.
“Of course, the Taoiseach was very hoarse during the interview, that was self-evident and very clear. But it seems to me that that seems to be what the issue is about, that the Taoiseach was hoarse.”
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 the Fine Gael opposition party.
He added: “That doesn’t just happen.”
However Roisin Shortall, Labour Party TD, described the interview as one of the most inept and unconvincing by a Taoiseach in the history of the state.
“Such a performance by a Taoiseach at any time would be a matter of concern, but at a time when the country is facing such huge economic problems, it must set serious alarm bells ringing,” she said.
“When the country is crying out for leadership, looking out for some optimism for the future, we had an interview from a Taoiseach that was semi-coherent and offered no hope or no vision.”
Ms Shortall added: “The point of no return has now been reached.
“Only a general election and the return of a new government with a fresh mandate can rescue the country from the morass into which Fianna Fáil has led it.”
The severe criticism of the Taoiseach in political circles began initially with a Tweet from Fine Gael transport spokesman Simon Coveney.
He posted to the online networking site: “God, what an uninspiring interview by Taoiseach this morning. He sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested.”
Mr Martin criticised the opposition TD, saying: “I would have expected better from Simon.”
Sinn Fein's Caoimhghín O Caoláin refused to become involved in the fierce attack on the Taoiseach.
“The physical state of the Taoiseach Brian Cowen after the first night of his party’s think-in is far less important than what he actually said,” Mr O Caoláin said.