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FG senator apologises and 'withdraws remarks' about Taoiseach being 'autistic'

Catherine Noone said the Taoiseach is a “very good politician”, but said she had no doubt he is “on the spectrum”.

Image: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

FINE GAEL SENATOR Catherine Noone has apologised for remarks she made about the Taoiseach, after it was reported she said Leo Varadkar was “autistic”, “on the spectrum” and that he “doesn’t know what to do with himself” in social situations.

The Times, Ireland Edition, first reported the senator’s comments, which she made while canvassing in her Dublin Bay North constituency.

“He’s autistic like, he’s on the spectrum, there’s no doubt about it. He’s uncomfortable socially and he doesn’t always get the inbetween bits,” she said.

If I do say so, I am much more natural than he would be. I’ve been in rooms with him and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s naturally shy. But he’s actually a very good politician.

Noone was also quoted as saying he is a “very good politician”, but is “a bit wooden”.

When contacted by The Times about her remarks, she initially denied using the word “autistic” but she was informed there was a recording. She then said she did not mean the word literally.

“I didn’t mean it in the sense of the actual illness or anything. I just mean he can be a bit wooden and lacking in empathy,” she said. “I shouldn’t have even said it in that way.”

This morning, Noone released a statement apologising and withdrawing her comments:

“I unequivocally apologise and withdraw all of my remarks, as reported by TheTimes.ie, which were completely unacceptable,” she said.

My choice of language was inexcusable and wrong. I am truly sorry. I will not be making any further comment.

The Times also reports that Noone gave it examples of potentially offensive words that could be used out of context, such as “special” and “n***er”. However she clarified that she would never use the N word.

She claimed her comments about the Taoiseach had been taken out of context, telling the publication: “Sometimes I say, ‘Oh God, I’m a bit special’ but I don’t mean it to be derogatory.”

Health Minister Simon Harris, whose brother Adam is the CEO of the AsIAm charity, has criticised Noone’s comments this morning:

In a statement, deputy CEO of AsIAm Fiona Ferris said the stereotyping of Autism “unfortunately leads to many autistic individuals feeling stigmatised”.

“Autism is a complex, invisible condition that has an extensive clinical diagnostic process. We need to be careful not to engage in ‘doorstep diagnosis’ because we cannot definitively tell whether or not someone is on the spectrum without a full assessment,” she said.

Ferris said autistic people “can of course empathise, just as non-autistic people can”.

“However that empathy may be communicated or even processed differently.

“AsIAm is working on a national level to educate wider society about how autistic people experience the world, and a large part of that is dispelling myths or misconceptions like this which increase the stigma surrounding the condition. We would encourage politicians to learn more about autism and support AsIAm’s #HappierHealthierLonger election pledge.”

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