Jonathan O’Brien not seeking apology for family remark

Labour’s Eric Byrne commented on Sinn Féin TD’s brother during Leaders’ Questions

There were angry exchanges during Leader's Questions on Thursday after Jonathan O’Brien said his brother had been 'forced to go back into a hostel where drug-taking happens in front of him'.


Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien has said he is not seeking a personal apology from Labour TD Eric Byrne, who made a remark about his family during a Dáil session.

However, the Cork TD has called for Mr Byrne to apologise to his own constituents in Dublin for downplaying such a serious issue.

There was a heated exchange during Leaders’ Questions on Thursday when Mr O’Brien spoke about his brother, who he described as homeless and a recovering heroin addict.

Mr O’Brien said his brother “can’t get rent accommodation because of the rent allowance” and “has been forced to go back into a hostel where drug-taking happens in front of him”.

Addressing Mr O’Brien, Mr Byrne said: “Why doesn’t his good family give him a home?”

Mr O’Brien replied: “Shut your mouth.”

Mr O’Brien has told The Irish Times that Mr Byrne should apologise to his own constituents in Dublin for showing a lack of understanding on the issue.

“I’m not usually the type that will shout across the chamber, but yesterday I lost the rag obviously because it was personal to me.”

Asked if he was seeking an apology from Mr Byrne, Mr O’Brien said: “Eric has his opinion. I’m not the type to go around looking for people to apologise or resign.

“He owes people within his own constituency who face the same issues an apology because he showed a complete lack of understanding.”

Mr O’Brien said he had called his brother after the exchange took place to explain what had happened.

“Naturally he was a bit upset but at the same time he’s not ashamed of who he is and neither are we as a family. He has good support.”

Mr Byrne has declined to elaborate on his comment.

“I don’t want to say anything further about the unfortunate man because I feel we have to respect his rights to privacy,” he told The Irish Times.

Mr Byrne said he had been involved in drugs task forces for 30 years.

Fine Gael TD Derek Keating became embroiled in the row in the Dáil chamber on Thursday when he said: “It is completely out of order for Deputy O’Brien to tell another deputy to shut his mouth,” he said.

However, Mr Keating today said he had not heard Mr Byrne’s comment to Mr O’Brien.

“I’d be very sensitive and understanding to that situation,” he said.

Asked if he thought Mr Byrne should withdraw the remark or apologise, Mr Keating said: “It’s entirely up to him. In the circumstances I wouldn’t have made that comment.”

Mr Keating said his comment in the Dáil was in response to what he had heard.

“I was just raising an issue under standing orders that it wasn’t helpful for TDs to be telling each other to shut up.

“I didn’t realise that Deputy Byrne had made any comment.”

He said the RTÉ Radio One programme Liveline had made him aware of it and he had then read about it in The Irish Times.