Shane MacGowan has defended the use of a controversial phrase in Fairytale of New York, saying the lyric is meant to represent the "down on her luck" character but is "not intended to offend", while RTÉ has confirmed it will not censor the word following controversy online.

The line in question, "You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot", is sung by Kirsty MacColl in the song, which was originally released in 1987.

A fresh debate over the lyrics began earlier this week when 2fm broadcaster Eoghan McDermott tweeted that he asked two gay members of his team how they feel about the use of the slur.

"One favours censoring, the other outright not playing it. Neither like it. Simples", he wrote.

He continued: "Phrases that have zero social utility should fall away. Enough vitriol out there without gay people having to feel uncomfortable so people that aren't affected by an insult can tap their toe.

"The fact this song is a classic isn't a strong enough defense to not at least censor it. We censor sh**, f***, ass, weed and loads of other comparatively benign words in songs. It's not a big ask."

Fellow 2fm presenter Stephen Byrne highlighted his discomfort with the word and agreed with bleeping it out, saying: "For some its literally a word that can slice open a wound that bleeds memories of real life and online bullying".

Following the controversy on Twitter, RTÉ issued a statement saying it will not censor Fairytale of New York, which is one of the most played songs of the festive period on radio.

A spokesperson for RTÉ said: "Fairytale Of New York will be continued to be played without any omissions on RTÉ radio." 

In a statement given to Virgin Media's The Tonight Show, MacGowan, who co-wrote the song with fellow Pogue Jem Finer, addressed the dispute and explained why he used the word in the song.

The 60-year-old Pogues front man said: "The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character. She is not supposed to be a nice person, or even a wholesome person.

"She is a woman of a certain generation at a certain time in history and she is down on her luck and desperate. Her dialogue is as accurate as I could make it but she is not intended to offend!

"She is just supposed to be an authentic character and not all characters in songs and stories are angels or even decent and respectable, sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively."

However, he added he is "absolutely fine" with the word being censored, saying he doesn't "want to get into an argument".

"If people don’t understand that I was trying to accurately portray the character as authentically as possible then I am absolutely fine with them bleeping the word but I don’t want to get into an argument", MacGowan said.

McDermott issued a final statement on the on-going controversy on Friday, writing: "I get the dysfunctional characters and mayhem and trading of insults. My point was we beep out relatively harmless swear words all the time on the radio to appease literally everyone.

"So, the idea of beeping one word on daytime radio didn't seem so radical - given this particular word packs a lot of punch for many people and is used as a powerful slur outside this song.

"I'm not ashamed to point that out, even if it's unpopular."