Fine Gael TD Tom Barry has apologised to his party colleague Áine Collins TD for a "disrespectful and inappropriate" incident when he pulled her onto his lap in the Dáil chamber early this morning.
Fine Gael General secretary Tom Curran said this afternoon the characterisation of the incident as “horseplay” does not reflect how the party views the behaviour “having seen the footage”.
“I wish to make it clear that the instinctive characterisation last night of the incident as “horseplay involving two people” doesn’t reflect how Fine Gael views this kind of behaviour, having seen the footage,” Mr Curran said in a statement.
“One deputy’s actions were unwelcome to another deputy. If it happened in any other workplace, it would be unacceptable. That it happened on the floor of Leinster House makes it more so,” he said.
The apology made it clear he understood the “inappropriateness and it was welcomed, he added.
Earlier Cork East TD Mr Barry said in a statement: “What I did last night was disrespectful and inappropriate. I have apologised to Áine Collins and she graciously and immediately accepted my apology. No excuses, I just shouldn’t have done it” .
The embarrassing incident happened as deputies assembled in the chamber around 2.40am to vote on the first tranche of amendments.
Mr Barry and Cork North West TD Ms Collins can be seen talking in Dáil footage of the episode. He then pulls her onto his knee. She then gets up and walks away.
It was a “silly” and insensitive incident which should not have happened, a Fine Gael spokesman said.
The National Women’s Council of Ireland has said there was “a long way to go before politics in Ireland is a woman-friendly place”.Responding to the footage Eóin Murray, the council’s coordinator of its women in politics project said standards should be “even higher” in the chamber.
“Any sexist incident sends a message to women that unprofessional behaviour is acceptable in politics. This discourages women from getting involved,” he said in a statement.
Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton said told reporters it “was a very important debate and I don’t think we want to get sidetracked by an inappropriate incident”.
Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said: “Last night was a very important debate on critical issues. Let’s not be distracted from that important debate by an inappropriate incident.”
Labour senator Ivana Bacik tweeted that the vote offered progress to women but the incident shows a “deep problem with political culture, need for more women in politics”.
Referring to the incident, Labour senator Susan O’Keeffe tweeted: “Fortunately, most public representatives know how to behave.... More women in politics would ring change”.
The footage received much attention and comment on social media overnight.
The incident has also made the news internationally. Huffington Post has the headline: Irish Politician Tom Barry Grabs Colleague Áine Collins During Abortion Debate.
The Guardian has the headline: Irish MP apologises for grabbing female colleague.
BBC’s website says: TD apologises for Dáil incident.
Ms Collins was first elected in 2011 and is a member of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. She is a qualified accountant and auditor.
Mr Barry is also a first-term TD who was previously a member of Cork County Council.