Leo Varadkar says he 'profoundly regrets' if anyone thinks he doesn’t support the media

The Taoiseach has insisted he strongly believes that a free press is a corner stone of democracy and freedom.

It comes after he reportedly said that he sympathises with US President Donald Trump’s attacks on what the media.

Speaking during a private lunch in New York yesterday, Leo Varadkar reportedly accused journalists of trivializing politics saying they are more interested in Leinster House gossip than the important issues

He was quoted as saying that journalists “were never held to account when they make mistakes.”

His comments have been roundly criticised by opposition politicians – with the National Union of Journalists warning that the comments are damaging to Ireland’s reputation as a modern democracy.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, the Taoiseach said: “I profoundly regret if anyone in the country thinks in any way that I don’t support a free press or don’t respect the work of journalists.”

“I strongly believe that the free press is essential for democracy to function,” he said.

“It is important work; it is essential work and in a free society or a democracy, the work of a free press is as important as the work of the Parliamentary system of the court system.

“That is why I personally – and the Government – support the work of the news media.”

Leo Varadkar at the New York Stock Exchange

Mr Varadkar issued his criticism of the media at a private lunch for young Irish people working in New York during his trip to support Ireland's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

The Irish Times reports that during the meal, he said President Trump’s continued attacks on the press were one of the few things he could sympathise with him on.

He also complained about the large number of journalists covering the Dáil.

After the value of investigative journalism was pointed out to him, he said some investigative journalism is incorrect, citing Prime Time as an example.

He also claimed journalists focus their attention on technology and social media companies because they are taking away their business.

This morning, NUJ Irish General Secretary Seamus Dooley said that given President Trump’s well known views on press freedom, the comments are damaging to Ireland’s reputation as a modern democracy.

"If the object of the visit to New York was to project Ireland as a modern democracy, then expressing sympathy with Donald Trump’s views on the media was a spectacular own goal by An Taoiseach," he said.

"Freedom of expression is a core principle of the United Nations.

"Donald Trump has shown nothing but contempt for the media and it is disturbing that Mr Varadkar should in any way align himself with the views of the American president on this issue."

He also took aim at Mr Varadkar's "cowardly decision" to make the comments at an off-the-record event.

This morning the Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald noted that, "when the Taoiseach goes to America, he seems to lose the run of himself."

“Of course, it is very serious that the head of Government would launch such an attack in such an indiscriminate Way.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley said he was "somewhat baffled" as to how the Taoisaech could view himself as a victim of the media.

“From the reports that I have read he has not identified any particular event within the media generally so I think we are left at a loss as to what specifically he is talking about.”

“The coverage that he has enjoyed would point to probably a very long extended honeymoon period," he said.

"I think we are left at a loss as to what specifically he is talking about.”