Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has apologised on Twitter for using what he called "a racial slur" during a debate on racism in Irish society. 

Mr Ryan said the context was that he was reading from an article, but added that he was "completely wrong to do so" and he wanted to "apologise for any hurt caused". 

The Green Party leader said: "I know that this particular word should never be used."

He tweeted: "I made a speech in the Dáil today about the scourge of racism in our society. In quoting from an article I read this morning, I repeated a racial slur, and I was completely wrong to do so.

"I want to apologise for any hurt caused. I know this particular word should never be used."

Mr Ryan was referencing an article in today's Irish Times, by an Irish writer and director Sean Gallen, who was describing his personal experience of racism growing up in Ireland.

However, a number of Green Party councillors have criticised Mr Ryan's comments.

Daniel Whooley, who represents Ongar on Fingal County Council, said no person should use such words of hate "regardless of context, especially in Dáil Éireann", describing them as "morally reprehensible".

South Dublin County Green Party councillor Peter Kavanagh has said the party "should not draw a line under the incident and move-on as if nothing has happened".

He said the Greens must "strive to do better to be not just a party that isn't racist, but an anti-racist party". 

The councillor said it was "a disappointing day to be a member of the Green Party" and that Mr Ryan's comments were "unacceptable, no matter the context nor the point he was making".

Cllr Kavanagh, who said he is supporting Catherine Martin in the upcoming leadership campaign, told RTÉ  that he did not want to conflate the issue of a racial slur with either the programme for government negotiations or the party leadership contest.

However, he added the party needed to face up to what happened today and deal with it, possibly through the adoption of diversity training.

"We need to make sure that nothing like this happens again," he said.

Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin will both contest the Green Party leadership

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Mr Kavanagh said: "A racial slur is not something that we would expect from the leader of the party."

He welcomed the apology from Mr Ryan, but said: "There is only so much you can expect from an apology made through the medium of Twitter ... at the bare minimum Eamon owes an explanation to the party.

"He needs to prove that something like this cannot happen again."

Green Dublin City Councillor Janet Horner said on Twitter: "What was said in the Dáil today was unequivocally wrong.

"We have work to do. As individuals. As a party. And as a society. We know that being anti-racist is an active, not passive process so let's do the work."

In a statement, she said: "I'm not asking [Eamon Ryan] to drop out [of the leadership race] but I think his language today demonstrates that he isn't the right person to lead a party committed to principles of anti-racism and inclusion."

Mr Ryan did receive support however from others within the party, including Cork Councillor Dan Boyle who said anyone who knows the Green Party leader would never "attribute any malice" to the comments - remarks he had apologised for.

Even some of his political opponents rowed-in. Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne described Mr Ryan as a "decent and committed politician" who stands strongly against racism, while Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said "there is not a milligram of racism or prejudice in Eamon Ryan" and some perspective is needed.  

During the debate, Mr Ryan said that our support for the Black Lives Matter movement was best reflected in what we do to address the issue of racism in Ireland.

He asked the Taoiseach for his thoughts on what can be done to eliminate racism in Ireland. Mr Ryan said certain schools take all the "new community" and others have none.

Mr Ryan said the education system should be fully integrated and that we do not have segregation within the school system.

He said we must ensure that future policing is "blind" to the issue of colour or postcode, but he said the statistics show that one in 200 of the gardaí come from new Irish ethnic backgrounds.

In response, the Taoiseach said racism exists in every society and Ireland was not immune.

He said ideas that came up in a Zoom call yesterday, with Irish people who are black, included educating children better in schools about racism and reform of incitement to hatred laws.

Leo Varadkar also said there needed to be an online safety commissioner and proper infrastructure legally underpinned to require social media platforms to take down things that are racist.

He also said the civil service was "very white", including the Department of Equality, and he said this needs to change.

Mr Varadkar said there needed to be a target for people who come from ethnic minority backgrounds and a dedicated recruitment campaign to encourage people.

Additional reporting Aisling Kenny