Varadkar accepts apology from Sinn Féin councillor over ‘family man’ and ‘India’ comments

Ex-MMA fighter Paddy Holohan represents Sinn Féin on South Dublin County Council

 Paddy Holohan, former UFC fighter and Sinn Féin councillor. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Paddy Holohan, former UFC fighter and Sinn Féin councillor. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he accepts the apology of Sinn Féin councillor Paddy Holohan over remarks about how a “family man” should run the country and for questioning the Fine Gael leader’s connectedness with Ireland because of his Indian heritage.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald earlier said Mr Holohan had done the right thing by apologising and would not be leaving the party.

The ex-MMA fighter had tweeted an apology over remarks in his podcast which “may have offended people”. Before that, Sinn Féin had told him he should say sorry.

Speaking in Longford on the General Election campaign trail on Thursday evening, Mr Varadkar said of Mr Holohan: “Well, I understand that he has apologized in the last few hours and, you know, that’s good enough for me.”

“But, you know, in terms of the wider issue I think anyone in Ireland who’s from a minority background, whether mixed race or gay or lesbian, has experienced some form of racism or homophobia in their lives,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I am fortunate in that I haven’t received too much of that. I know it’s been a lot worse for a lot many other people.”

Mr Varadkar said if he was re-elected taoiseach he would “run another cross-government campaign against racism and we did that before, and I think we can never do enough.

“We just need to raise awareness of the issue and make sure that we have a properly united country no matter whether you’re a man or a woman, no matter what background you come from, whether you are a member of the Travelling community or not, or who you love.”

He said candidates who repeatedly engage in anti-immigrant rhetoric should be dropped from their constituency ticket.

Mr Holohan topped the poll in Tallaght South for Sinn Féin in last May’s local elections.

On Thursday afternoon, Ms McDonald said she did not believe Mr Holohan should resign from his position as a councillor, and he would not be removed from the party.

Speaking at an election campaign event in Cabra, she said Sinn Féin had insisted that Mr Holohan apologise for his remarks and he had now done that.

“I think he’s apologised and that was the correct thing to do. I mean what do you do when you misspeak, when you make a mistake or when you cause offence? You apologise for the remarks,” Ms McDonald said.

“I think that’s the correct thing to do. I think it’s the only reasonable and acceptable thing to do.”

She added: “And certainly for the party, as you know we have been very active with respect to not just marriage equality but the rights of the LGBT community and others and we pride ourselves as an organisation that’s open and inclusive. And Paddy knows that and he’s a part of that.”

In a Tweet earlier on Thursday afternoon, Mr Holohan said: “Hi All, I would like to take a minute to address comments that were made on my podcast.

“Firstly, I would like to apologise as my comments may have offended people as I of course did not intend to do so. My comments have been misinterpreted and not in anyway meant the way they have been portrayed.

“Thank you to the people that know me and have supported me. And understand that I would never make such remarks.”

In recent episodes of his podcast ‘No Shame’, he seemed to make an indirect reference to the Taoiseach’s sexuality by saying he would prefer a “family man” to be taoiseach.

He also said Mr Varadkar was “separated” from Irish history because of his Indian heritage. Mr Varadkar’s father is Indian.

“We need people running the country. Someone that knows what it’s like to have kids, maybe, hopefully, boys and girls, so when you’re creating policies and stuff that’s going to go on, you’re like: ‘right, it makes sense’.

“I know what it’s like to collect my young fella from school so I know what school time traffic is like.

“When I’m making decisions, I can have an experience of it and bring that into the equation.

“The man that is a family man, that goes to work, looks after his kids, has come up through the system, has experience, maybe is a solicitor as well so has that experience - that’s who should be running the country. Someone who knows what the masses of people are going through.

“Leo does not know what it’s like to be broke. Leo does not know what it’s like to be on the dole. A lot of these things are very important.”

On Varadkar’s Indian ancestry he said: “Leo Varadkar’s blood obviously runs to India so his great grandfather is not part of the history of this Leo obviously he’s an Irish citizen, but his passion doesn’t go back to the times when our passion goes back to.

“So we’re in a situation where we have a leader that’s not only separated from the history of the country but separated from the classes in the country now.”