The Taoiseach has apologised unreservedly to anyone who feels he did not treat seriously the concerns raised about mortuary services at University Hospital Waterford.

Four consultants had stated that dead bodies had been left decomposing on trolleys in the corridors of the hospital mortuary.

When the Taoiseach was asked about this during a visit to Waterford on Tuesday he said there wasn't any evidence to back up the claims and he described it as a "strange story".

In a statement this afternoon Leo Varadkar said he had got it wrong and corroborating statements have since come to light to support the views expressed by the consultants

He said that when he spoke in Waterford there were conflicting accounts and he did not want to jump to conclusions.

The Taoiseach added that planning permission has been granted for a new mortuary at the hospital and temporary measures are being put in place in the meantime.

Taoiseach's statement in full:

"Last week when I was asked about the Waterford mortuary, there were conflicting accounts. On the one hand, a letter from four consultants making deeply disturbing claims about conditions in the mortuary and on the other hand, a statement from hospital management saying there was no evidence or supporting complaints to back up the claims.

"I did not want to jump to conclusions or to side with one group or staff against another without knowing facts or before an investigation was carried out. That's why I said that I did not know if the claims were true or not.

"Over the course of the week, corroborating statements have come to light and complaints have been made that I believe support the views expressed by the four consultants. This is one I got wrong.

"I want to apologise unreservedly to anyone who feels that I did not treat this issue with the seriousness or sensitivity it deserved.

"As I have said before, my over-riding concern is for the dignity of patients in life and in death. It has never been in dispute that the mortuary is sub-standard and needs to be replaced. Planning permission has been granted for a new one and I am assured that it will go to tender and construction this year. In the interim, temporary measures are being put in place."

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Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin said it was right that the Taoiseach apologised over the approach he took to concerns raised by consultants in Waterford.

Mr Martin said the apology should have come earlier because the evidence was there.

He said the episode had revealed a tendency in Government to suppress criticism and the raising of issues.

Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the apology from the Taoiseach but said Leo Varadkar must now take action.

"The Government must commence a full independent investigation of the claims made and ensure that the hospital group and management appear before the Oireachtas without delay," she said.

Ms McDonald said the facts surrounding the controversy must be established.

"Families who have lost loved ones in Waterford and the south east deserve nothing less," she added.

Earlier, a protest was held over the conditions at the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford.

The Still Waiting Campaign says it is supporting the four consultants who claim that decomposing bodies were being left on trolleys and the floor.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the hospital with placards and banners.

Demonstrators held signs calling for health reform and criticising the larger parties, with one labelling Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as "healthcare vandals".

Spokesperson for the south-east's Still Waiting group Una Dunphy said locals in Waterford believe and support the consultants.