Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has described his comments about Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty during a Dáil row as “self-defence”, and that Sinn Féin were “bullies”.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Mr Varadkar acknowledged that the incident “probably” did not reflect well on politics, however, sometimes such interactions were necessary.
His reaction had been one of self defence, he explained as Sinn Féin were “constantly” trying to bully and make personal attacks “and do us down on the Government benches. Every now and then, I think you have to stand up to bullies”. Mr Varadkar said that Sinn Féin wanted to “demonise” their political opponents and make it appear that they cared more about the public.
“It started off, let’s not forget, because Pearse Doherty alleged that my party was out of touch because I’d had steak and chips with Jimmy Deenihan in the members’ restaurant the night before — no public money involved. Yet they can go on their exotic, fundraising trips around the world and drink champagne, and they’re totally down with normal people.
“When you have to listen to that kind of stuff day-in, day-out — I think even for your own mental health, every now and then, you have to snap back.”
Later on RTÉ Radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show Mr Doherty said he had wanted to make it clear that he had no convictions.
“Leo Varadkar is a person who is under immense pressure. He brought up something that happened a quarter of a century ago, it was a verbal altercation with the gardaí and I have no convictions.” Mr Doherty said he believed that Mr Varadkar’s comments had been “scripted” and “very rehearsed.”
During a no-holds-barred slagging match in the Dáil last week between Mr Doherty and Mr Varadkar, the Tánaiste told the Sinn Féin finance spokesman he had been arrested for having “abused, mistreated a garda”. As The Irish Times reported in July 1999, four Sinn Féin members were prosecuted and given the probation act, with Mr Doherty having called a garda “an abusive name”.