TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has offered "sincere apologies" to northern nationalists offended after he described Belfast as "overseas" in a recent interview.
The Fine Gael leader sparked fury when he told Newstalk presenter Pat Kenny last week while discussing party membership at a global level that Belfast was among "overseas" locations of members.
"We don't have a lot of overseas members. We do have some overseas members though. We have members in Belfast for example," the taoiseach said, prompting criticism from political rivals Sinn Féin, who urged Mr Varadkar to "unreservedly withdraw" the remarks, which MLA Emma Sheerin described as "bizarre".
Fine Gael is also known by the title 'The United Ireland Party', and in a statement to The Irish News the taoiseach apologised for his choice of words, insisting the context related to all-Ireland issues. Mr Varadkar also highlighted geographical terms used by Sinn Féin insistng they were "incorrect".
"My sincere apologies to anyone I offended," Mr Varadkar said.
"I have crossed the land border dozens of times in my efforts to prevent a hard border and to bring both jurisdictions closer together. To clarify, Fine Gael has a Belfast Branch and we also have branches overseas like Brussels. The context, which some have neglected to mention, was me defending the right of Green Party and Fine Gael members living in Northern Ireland to have a say on whether we form a government together.
He added: "In the interests of goodwill all round, I do hope Sinn Féin figures will also stop referring to the State as the ‘South of Ireland’, ‘Free State’ or the ‘Southern State’. Some find that offensive too and it is geographically incorrect, especially if you consider the location of Donegal."