Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has twice declined to fully apologise for his response to the Waterford hospital morgue crisis to date, despite admitting he regrets how his initial comments questioning the doctors claims "came across".
Speaking at a Project Ireland 2040 event in Moate, Co Westmeath, Mr Varadkar was repeatedly questioned over the deepening concerns surrounding the vital service at the south east hospital.
Asked if he will apologise for questioning the claims made by four consultant pathologists over serious problems at the morgue in the wake of growing criticism of his initial response, Mr Varadkar twice stopped short of a full apology.
The Taoiseach said he accepts the mortuary is "sub-standard", but said all he did is "I just pointed out there are different accounts from different members of staff".
"As I said over the last couple of days, I don't want to get involved in adjudicating a dispute between one group of staff and other staff that's not for me to do.
"But what nobody disagrees with is that the mortuary in Waterford is substandard, it has been substandard for some time and needs to be upgraded and that is being done.
"Planning permission has been secured to build the mortuary and that will go to tender this year.
"My priority as Taoiseach, as head of Government is the dignity of patients and respect for their families in life and in death.
"Nobody is under any doubt or disagreement that the mortuary is substandard and needs to be upgraded an will be upgraded.
"I have no reason not to believe what they are saying, at the same time I have no reason not to believe what the hospital management are saying," he said.
Asked to respond to opposition claims his initial response to the doctors' concerns has been adversarial, Mr Varadkar said this was not his intention.
He said "if that's the tone I struck or if that's how I came across, then I regret that".
He added: "I have always encouraged people to raise issues and if people have issues about the services they work in bringing them to the attention of management is absolutely the appropriate and right thing to do.
"The only thing I said in recent days was that there were different accounts and I didn't want to be calling any staff member dishonest or questioning the veracity of anything anyone said."
- Additional reporting by Fiachra Ó Cionnaith