The Fine Gael leader in the Seanad has criticised the Minister of State, Liz O'Donnell, for her strong remarks about the Catholic Church's attitude to the Taoiseach's partner, Ms Celia Larkin. Maurice Manning said that the Catholic Church and Cardinal Connell had behaved with total propriety in the entire controversy. He added that he objected to what he called Ms O'Donnell's "gratuitous" attack and added that her comments were offensive and utterly unfair.

Earlier, Ms O'Donnell said that it was a "bit rich" for the Catholic Church to be unhappy with Ms Larkin's role in Monday's State reception for Cardinal Connell, given its failure to deal with issues such as paedophile priests and institutional abuse. She accepted that the controversy could possibly have been avoided by arrangements in the Taoiseach's Office. However, she was also quoted as saying that most practising Catholics paid little attention to large tracts of the Church's teaching on private morality.

The row was ignited by a disclosure by the Church of Ireland Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral. Reverend Robert McCarthy said that he would be turning down an invitation to a reception for Cardinal Connell in Dublin Castle because it was issued on behalf of the Taoiseach and Celia Larkin. Other church leaders and politicians have entered into the debate since then.

The comments made by Minister O'Donnell are the most forthright on the part of a member of the Government. While she accepted that the Government held some of the blame for the row, she asked why protocol should be changed just because the Cardinal was involved. There has been no official comment on the controversy from the office of the Cardinal.