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Fine Gael stands by Catherine Noone and she can do whatever interview she likes, says Donohoe

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

Senator Catherine Noone
Senator Catherine Noone
Image: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

Updated Jan 30th 2020, 1:01 PM

FINE GAEL STANDS over Senator Catherine Noone and she is free to do an interview with anyone she wishes, according to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

The party did not permit Noone to do a broadcast interview to explain her comments about Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after doing a mock interview with her at party HQ. 

Noone asked Fine Gael that she be given the opportunity to do a broadcast interview to address the controversy that emerged after she said Varadkar was “autistic”, “on the spectrum” and that he “doesn’t know what to do with himself” in social situations. 

However, it was decided not to allow the interview to go ahead after conducting a mock runthrough with her. It is understood that Donohoe played a role in the decision.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney told RTÉ’s Late Debate that Noone was “very anxious” to come out and apologise again.

“She decided after discussing it with lots of people this morning that it probably wouldn’t have helped,” he said, adding that he believed that it was the right decision to take.

When asked about the matter today, Donohoe said Noone is free to do an interview with anyone she wishes. However, it is understood that the party will not be putting the senator forward for any interviews until after the election.

Today, Donohoe said the party stands over Noone after she apologised for her comments. 

He rejected claims that Noone had stopped campaigning and said she would still be fighting for her seat in Dublin Bay North. Over the last number of days, there have been reports of Noone’s campaign office being closed, and that the senator had gone underground following her controversial words. 

The Times, Ireland Edition first reported the senator’s comments on Tuesday, 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.”

Noone later released a statement apologising and withdrawing her comments. However, she has not done any media interviews since the reports emerged. 

“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 reported 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.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday afternoon that he accepts the apology from Noone. 

“She has withdrawn her remarks and apologised and, you know, that’s good enough for me,” he said.

Yesterday, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the comments made by Noone were “offensive, ignorant and wrong”. 

“They caused offensive to many people. She has apologised for those comments and I know she hopes that the families offended by them will accept that apology,” Coveney said.

“This should not have happened. As deputy party leader I want to apologise for the fact that it happened. The apology is very sincere and comments like that type are not acceptable,” he added. 

 “I hope we can put that issue to bed.”

 With reporting by Christina Finn

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