Taoiseach: ‘I profoundly regret if anyone thinks I do not support a free press’

The Taoiseach has said he “profoundly regrets” if anybody thinks he does not respect the Irish media but hit out at journalists who “are not always true”.

The Taoiseach has said he “profoundly regrets” if anybody thinks he does not respect the Irish media but hit out at journalists who “are not always true”.

Leo Varadkar was accused of being “notorious” for “feeding the rumour mill” with journalists in Leinster House when he was a minister.

It came after it was reported that he told a private lunch of Irish-Americans that political journalists are more interested in gossip than substantive issues or Government business.

Mr Varadkar, who arrived back from New York in the early hours of yesterday morning, faced a grilling in the Dáil after it was claimed he also told the event that he sympathises with US President Donald Trump’s view of the media.

Defending his comments, Mr Varadkar said he strongly believes that the free press is essential for democracy to function.

“It is important and essential work and in a free society and a democracy is as important as the parliamentary or courts system,” he said.

However, when pressed by a number of opposition members including Fianna Fáil leader
Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Varadkar refused to confirm whether or not he had stated he sympathises with Mr Trump’s views of the media.

In May, the US president threatened to strip reporters of their credentials if they write stories he doesn’t like. He has been constantly critical of the American press and “fake news”.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil: “Sometimes there are tensions between the Government and media but that is as it should be.

“I profoundly regret if anyone in the country thinks that in any way I do not support a free press or respect the work of journalists.”

He claimed he said a lot of positive things about the media during a conversation about social media and fake news and told those attending the event that he thought he got a fair hearing from the media.

It is also understood that the Taoiseach criticised some investigative journalists in Ireland for being incorrect, singling out RTÉ in particular.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil: “My only reference to RTÉ was in response to somebody challenging me when I said that investigative journalism was not always true and the only reference I made to RTÉ Prime Time Investigates was specifically on the issue of the ‘Mission to Prey’ programme when false allegations against a priest fathering a child in Africa were broadcast and should not have been broadcast. Obviously, that has been dealt with since.”

Responding, Ms McDonald said the Taoiseach’s account of events contradicted what those who were at the event said.

She pointed out that the two-hour lunch at which the remarks were made was paid for by the taxpayer.

Mr Martin hit out at the Taoiseach claiming he “was quite notorious for the ongoing feeding of the rumour mill with journalists in Leinster House”.

He said: “The really concerning aspect of his remarks in New York this week is that the Taoiseach is in sympathy with President Trump’s view of the media.

"President Trump is probably one of the worst examples of a political leader who regularly demonises the media and media personalities.

“The Taoiseach should not have any sympathy with him or his plight with the media.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that if the Taoiseach does want a free and fair media he must fund it.

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