Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone has apologised and withdrawn comments in which she described Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as 'autistic'.
In a statement this morning, Noone said: “I unequivocally apologise and withdraw all of my remarks, as reported by The Times which were completely unacceptable.
"My choice of language was inexcusable and wrong. I am truly sorry."
Per The Times, Noone made the comments last Friday evening while canvassing in Dublin Bay North, where she is running for a Dáil seat.
It's understood that she had been discussing the Taoiseach’s performance in the Virgin Media One TV debate at the time.
"He’s autistic like, he’s on the spectrum, there’s no doubt about it ... 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."
She then described Varadkar as a “very good politician”, but accepted he was “a bit wooden”.
The Times reported online early Tuesday morning that she had initially denied having made the comments, before being told that the conversation had been recorded.
She then insisted that she "didn't mean it in the sense of the actual illness or anything", and attempted to give examples of potentially offensive words than can be used out of context such as "special" and "n****r".
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.”
In a statement, deputy CEO of Ireland's national Autism charity 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.
“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.”
Main image by @senatornoone