Leo Varadkar says he supports free press after comments on Donald Trump's media attacks
TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar said he "profoundly regrets if anyone in the country thinks in any way that I do not support a free press" after he faced criticism for saying he sympathises with US president Donald Trump's attacks on the media.
According to a report in the Irish Times, the taoiseach was asked about Mr Trump's views on the media during a private lunch in New York. He is reported to have said that the media was not interested in the truth but in the story.
Speaking today in the Dáil, the taoiseach said that during the lunch he had praised the media but this had not been reported.
"I acknowledged the role of investigative journalism in bringing about social change," the taoiseach said.
He also said he believed the media gave him a fair hearing but warned that it should not believe it is beyond reproach.
The taoiseach had been in the US to launch the Republic's bid for a seat at the United National Security Council.
Housing minister Eoghan Murphy said Mr Varadkar's original comments had been "taken out of context".
"Myself and the taoiseach speak about the importance of being available to speak to the media," he said. "That's a cornerstone for local democracy."
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said he "unreservedly supports the operation and function of the media" within local democracy.
Speaking at an event in Dublin today, Mr Donohoe said: "It's an absolutely essential element in how our country conducts itself.
"It's essential that we have a free and independent media that can report on what is happening in our country and scrutinise and evaluate and hold politicians to account.
"I know these are the views of the taoiseach too.
"I would be very against some of the darker tones that we have seen develop in other countries at the moment."
In a statement earlier today, a spokesman for the taoiseach said: "The lunch, hosted by Ireland's Consul General in New York, was a private event.
"Attendees included young Irish people based in New York working across a range of sectors, including media, finance and tech. They shared a wide-ranging discussion.
"This conversation is now being quoted selectively and out of context.
"The taoiseach believes that a free, fair and balanced press is a cornerstone of our democracy."
During the private event, Mr Varadkar was said to have been particularly critical of the political press and claimed that the journalists were more interested in gossip at the Dáil than in the workings of the government.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said: "The taoiseach may believe that 'a free, fair and balanced press is the cornerstone of our democracy', but his deeds and moral leadership carry more weight.
"No-one doubts that Ireland's links to the United States of America are hugely important, and that such trips to New York are strategically valuable to Ireland's interests.
"But whatever about criticising the media when at home on the campaign trail, for Ireland's head of government to attack the Irish media when on a diplomatic and strategic trade mission is wholly inappropriate."