Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has apologised for and withdrawn comments he made yesterday when he compared Michéal Martin to priests sinning behind altars.
Speaking to reporters at Dublin Castle at the commencement of a Church-State forum, Mr Varadkar accepted his comments had caused great offence, which he never intended to do.
He said he made his comments during a personalised and bitter debate in the Dail with Mr Martin.
Mr Varadkar said he was making a point about hypocrisy but said his choice of words was regrettable.
"Look it, I said something in the heat of a debate in the Dáil, it was a rather a bitter and personal debate on both sides. But in doing so I offended a lot of people who I never intended to offend," he said.
"I am sorry for that, I withdraw the remarks and I do apologise," he said.
When asked what he meant by the remarks, he said: "I was talking about the sin of hypocrisy, but I am not here to explain I am here to apologise."
I am making the apology to anyone who was offended. This is something that was said in the heat of a political debate.
"I have immense respect for priests and the sacrifice they give in the lives they lead and immense respect for people of faith and it didn't come out as I intended."
Mr Varadkar said he has respect for the Catholic Church.
During the session of the forum, Mr Varadkar reiterated his apology and paid tribute to the various faith leaders for the contribution they make to society.
It comes after the Taoiseach was called on to apologise for the "utterly revolting" comments.
Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher, suggested that Leo Varadkar may come before the Dáil next week to address the matter after a number of TDs said the remarks should be withdrawn.
Mr Varadkar made the surprising comparison when responding to Mr Martin who had raised a number of public projects including Cork's Dunkettle Interchange and the National Children's Hospital in the Dáil.
The Taoiseach said: "I am always amused and bemused that Deputy Martin likes to accuse me of being partisan and personal yet as is evidenced by his name calling today he is very capable of being partisan and personalised himself.
He kind of reminds me of one of those parish priests who preaches from the alter telling us how to avoid sin while secretly going behind the altar and engaging in any amount of sin himself.
To be honest Elaine, I think this reflects more on the Taoiseach than anyone else. https://t.co/BjFH1qC1dk— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) July 3, 2019
Fianna Fáil's Mary Butler said her religion should not be treated like this in the national parliament.
"It is simply unacceptable - he denigrates the entire Catholic Church."
She raised the new inclusion framework which aims to eliminate any discrimination on the ground of gender, age, race or religion.
"Unfortunately there was no such tolerance or respect shown for the Catholic religion in the Dáil yesterday when the Taoiseach of the country likened the leader of Fianna Fáil to one of those parish priests from the altar telling us how to avoid sin while secretly going behind the altar and engaging in any amount of sin."
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said the Taoiseach's remarks were "utterly revolting" and "outrageous" and called on him to come before the House to apologise.
Minister Regina Doherty who was taking questions on promised legislation at the time said it wasn't a matter for the particular Dáil debate: "I do respect the feelings and the views of both deputies have raised, but genuinely it isn't a matter for promised legislation."
Mr Gallagher said he had also been in the chair when the remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon and said that perhaps he should have raised the issue then.
"I took the opportunity yesterday, I read the transcripts of what was said and I don't think it's a matter for Minister Doherty, perhaps the Taoiseach may wish to address the matter when he is back in the House next week and I would leave it at that."