Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended old comments he made about Bertie Ahern, comparing his Mahon Tribunal defence to convicted criminal John Gilligan, saying the remarks were made at a "particular point in time".
It emerged on Wednesday that Mr Ahern has rejoined Fianna Fáil more than a decade after he quit the party in the wake of the findings of the Mahon tribunal.
During a 2008 Dáil debate, Mr Varadkar ranted that politics in the country was falling apart and took aim at Mr Ahern and his evidence before the Mahon Tribunal.
“This is a defence for drug dealers and pimps and not the kind of thing that should be tolerated from a former taoiseach and member of this house,” Mr Varadkar told the Dáil in June 2008.
He made the comments after Mr Ahern had resigned from Fianna Fáil in May 2008 and after his evidence at the Mahon tribunal.
When asked in Brussels on Thursday morning if he stood over his comments about the former taoiseach, Mr Varadkar appeared to soften his stance.
"I think that was at a particular point in time and if you look at the totality of Bertie Ahern’s career, let's not forget that he was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement and that’s something that we’re going to recognise in a few months' time. I don't think anyone can diminish the role that he played,” Mr Varadkar said.
“But who’s a member of Fianna Fáil is a matter for Fianna Fáil, it’s not my business.”
Mr Varadkar said Mr Ahern has been in touch with him from time to time in recent years in relation to Brexit and Northern Ireland.
Just as is the case for any former taoiseach, whether it is Enda Kenny or John Bruton, the advice is always welcome and useful, Mr Varadkar added.
It is understood Mr Ahern rejoined Fianna Fáil in December and there was praise for the former taoiseach at Fianna Fáil's parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night.
Mr Ahern has rejoined the party organisation in Dublin Central as an ordinary member for the annual €20 a year fee.
He is to address Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan’s constituency organisation as part of an event marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement.