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Latest: Taoiseach defend his comments on media saying stories are often 'sensationalised'

Update - 12.35pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his criticisms of Irish media made at a US lunch and gone further saying that stories are often "sensationalised", writes Juno McEnroe.

During Leaders Questions in the Dáil, he admitted having referenced RTE and where investigation journalism had failed, during a private lunch conversation in New York.

He said the lunch and discussion with Irish people living in the US went on for two hours.

Mr Varadkar admitted telling the event that Irish journalists were under pressure as there were more media outlets than previously.

However, he also told the Dáil today that he supported a free press and news coverage.

Nonetheless, Mr Varadkar argued that journalism and the media “should not be above” reproach or criticism, like other institutions had been previously.

He also admitted telling the lunch event that sometimes the media focused more on the story rather than the truth;

He said there was no official record of the lunch.

The Opposition today has rounded on Mr Varadkar for his comments, with the National Union of Journalists also saying they are damaging for democracy and the country.

12.08pm: Update - 12.08pm: Opposition parties have rounded on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for his alleged criticism of the Irish media and sympathy for US President Donald Trump, writes Juno McEnroe.

The Taoiseach has returned from the US this morning after a trade mission and now faces a media storm after his alleged criticism of Irish journalism.

The comments were reportedly made at a private lunch in New York on Monday.

This morning, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy both defended their party leader.

However, the two ministers also said the country needed a "robust and independent" media. Both said the Taoiseach would clarify the situation at Leaders in the Dáil today.

But Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald attacked Mr Varadkar's alleged criticism of investigative journalism.

Fianna Fail's Thomas Byrne also said the remarks about the Irish media were "dangerous" and that the Taoiseach was following in the footsteps of Donald Trump.

Labour's Brendan Howlin said that the Taoiseach had form on the matter and had previously accused the media of hyping up stories.

Other Opposition TDs also noted how Mr Varadkar in the Dáil had previously accused newspapers of printing "fake news".

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach has said the comments have been reported "out of context".

10am: Varadkar urged to clarify comments ‘sympathising with Trump over media’

Leo Varadkar must clarify comments he reportedly made at an event in New York, the National Union of Journalists has said.

It has been claimed that the Taoiseach criticised the media at the private event, saying it is one of the few issues on which he can sympathise with US President Donald Trump.

According to reports, when Mr Varadkar was asked about Mr Trump’s attacks on the media, he said the media was not interested in the truth but in the story.

NUJ Irish general secretary Seamus Dooley called for the Taoiseach to clarify his comments.

He said: “Respect for freedom of expression is a core value of the UN.

“Attributed comments are damaging to Ireland’s reputation as a modern democracy, given Trump’s views on press freedom.”

The Taoiseach was in the US to launch Ireland’s bid for a seat at the United National Security Council.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said: “The lunch, hosted by Ireland’s Consul General in New York, was a private event.

“Attendees included young Irish people based in New York working across a range of sectors, including media, finance and tech. They shared a wide-ranging discussion.

“This conversation is now being quoted selectively and out of context.

“The Taoiseach believes that a free, fair and balanced press is a cornerstone of our democracy.”

During the private event, Mr Varadkar was particularly critical of the political press and claimed that the journalists were more interested in gossip at Dail Eireann, than in the workings of the government.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Varadkar must clarify the “disparaging” remarks.

She said: “The remarks as reported are very troubling and the Taoiseach should clarify and explain what he said.

“The freedom of the press to write, broadcast and report freely in the public interest and to do so without coercion, without pressure and without undue influence is vitally important.

“Of course, this flows both ways and the media is not above criticism and must be able to stand over its reporting.”

"It seems that when the Taoiseach goes to America, he seems to lose the run of himself, but in any event they were very serious blanket criticisms of the media.

"The media is an essential part of our functioning democracy, and of course it's very serious that the head of our Government would launch such an attack in such an indiscriminate way."

- Digital Desk and PA

Earlier: Taoiseach criticises Irish media at private event in New York

By Daniel McConnell

Update 6.35am: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has reportedly criticised the media at an event in New York, saying it is one of the few issues he agrees upon with US President Donald Trump.

Mr Varadkar, speaking at a private event in New York, is said to have criticised Irish political journalists for being more interested in reporting tittle-tattle and gossip than the important workings of Government.

His comments came as part of a questions and answers session in a lunch hosted by a senior Irish diplomat for about 20 people working in New York.

Mr Varadkar was asked about Mr Trump's attacks on what he describes as “fake news” and is said to have raised eyebrows at what he described as the failings of the Irish media.

A travelling contingent of Irish media in New York for the Government's bid to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council was not present at the event.

It is understood that Mr Varadkar criticised the national broadcaster RTE in the context of journalists are never held to account when they are wrong.

The comments are said to have been met with some resistance from those present but Mr Varadkar said journalists, even investigative journalists do not always get it right.

It is understood that Mr Varadkar hit out at the Irish Oireachtas press gallery, quipping that there are more of them in Leinster House than TDs.

Known to have a low tolerance for so-called “gossipy” stories, Mr Varadkar accused political journalists of being more concerned about reporting low-grade spats than what he called substantive policy matters.

He is said to have conceded that he was biased given his work and his actions are reported upon by the same journalists he was criticising.

The lunch was attended by almost two dozen members of the Irish diaspora based in New York.

As part of the discussion, Mr Varadkar fielded questions on such matters as the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US, Brexit and the Irish economy.

The Irish Examiner understands that some guests were caught somewhat surprised at Mr Varadkar's comments that he can understand Mr Trump's frustration with the media.

It is understood the Taoiseach made a direct reference to RTE's flagship current affairs programme Prime Time.

A spokeswoman for Mr Varadkar has said he engaged in a wide-ranging discussion which is now being selectively quoted out of context.

She said the Taoiseach believes a free, fair and balanced press is a cornerstone of our democracy.

Responding to the Taoiseach’s comments about the media while in New York, Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin said:“The Taoiseach may believe that ‘a free, fair and balanced press is the cornerstone of our democracy,’ but his deeds and moral leadership carry more weight.

“No one doubts that Ireland’s links to the United States of America are hugely important, and that such trips to New York are strategically valuable to Ireland’s interests.

[quote]But whatever about criticising the media when at home on the campaign trail, for Ireland’s Head of Government to attack the Irish media when on a diplomatic and strategic trade mission is wholly inappropriate.[/quote]