The Taoiseach has said that he has made his views clear on numerous occasions about US President Donald Trump's policies.
Leo Varadkar has responded for a second time today to media reports of comments he made at a private function in New York yesterday.
It is reported that he said that Mr Trump's criticism of the media was one of the few things he could sympathise with the US President about.
The Irish Times and Times Ireland reported that during the private lunch hosted by Irish Consul General Ciarán Madden, Mr Varadkar said that the media was not interested in the truth but in the story.
He also said that some investigative journalism in Ireland was incorrect and singled RTÉ out for particular criticism, according to the reports.
The National Union of Jouralists Irish General Secretary Seamus Dooley said it was "bizarre" that Mr Varadkar would appear to align himself with the US President.
Managing Director of RTÉ News and Current Affairs Jon Williams said RTÉ was proud of its journalism and investigative reporting was a key pillar of its work.
In a statement issued this evening, a spokesperson for Leo Varadkar said: "This Taoiseach has made his views very clear on numerous of President Trump's policies, whether that concerns immigration, gender, race, trade, multilateralism, the UN, Jerusalem and the Iran deal and other areas.
"The Taoiseach didn't say he agreed with President Trump on anything, and that includes the media.
"His remark on 'sympathy' was that the president was willing to be critical, unlike traditional politicians, and that no group of people should consider themselves to be beyond reproach or immune from criticism.
"The Taoiseach explained this further in the Dail today."
Govt spokesperson said @campaignforleo didn’t say he agreed with Pres Trump on anything including the media. He said 'his remark on ‘sympathy’ was that the President was willing to be critical, unlike traditional politicians, & that no group should be beyond reproach @rtenews— Martina Fitzgerald (@MartinaFitzg) July 4, 2018
Earlier, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that he strongly believed that a free press was important for democracy to function.
He said he profoundly regretted if anyone in the country thought he did not support a free press.
A number of opposition politicians called on the Taoiseach to clarify his comments during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon.
In response to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Varadkar said he tried to be as accessible and open with the media as he could.
However, he said the media should not consider itself beyond reproach or above criticism.
The Taoiseach said that he said a lot of positive things about the media during the event and acknowledged the role in bringing about social change.
He also said that he believed he got a fair hearing in the media and that journalists were under pressure to produce stories because of the volume of media outlets.
Mr Varadkar said his only reference to RTÉ was in relation to the Mission to Prey programme, in which false allegations were made against a priest for fathering a child.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the really concerning aspects of his remarks were that he was in sympathy with President Trump, who he said was the "worst example of a political leader who regularly demonises media".
Ms McDonald said the Taoiseach did not refer to the issue of media ownership, which she said was the "stand out obvious issue to address".
'A free and fair and balanced media is a cornerstone of democracy', says @campaignforleo | https://t.co/bz6HAdw6L2 pic.twitter.com/e9MJ8A94sF— RTÉ News (@rtenews) July 4, 2018
Earlier, Mr Dooley called on Mr Varadkar to explain his comments about Mr Trump and the media.
Mr Dooley said it was especially concerning because as a public service broadcaster RTÉ depended on the goodwill and support of the Government.
He also said that RTÉ’s Prime Time was recognised as an outstanding programme.
However, he acknowledged that journalists "should be able to give it and take it".
Taoiseach must clarify NYC comments on media. Respect for freedom of expression is a core value of UN . Attributed comments are damaging to Ireland’s reputatiion as a modern democracy, given Trump’s views on press freedom. @morningireland @IrishTimes pic.twitter.com/1LDRGFXbqA— Séamus Dooley (@Seamusdo) July 4, 2018
This year, #RTEinvestigates honoured @NYFestivals, @CelticMediaFest & @IFTA. Investigative reporting key pillar @rtenews. Proud of its journalism. https://t.co/8oqd96O3Lt— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) July 4, 2018
The Taoiseach was in the US as part of Ireland’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
In a statement this morning, the Taoiseach’s spokesperson said Mr Varadkar was speaking at a private event, where those who attended included young Irish people based in New York who work across a range of sectors, including media, finance and technology.
He said the conversation was being "quoted selectively and out of context" and the Taoiseach "believes that a free, fair and balanced press is a cornerstone of our democracy".
Mr Dooley said the Taoiseach did not have a private capacity unless he was on holidays or spending time with friends and should not be surprised that his comments were reported.
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said the Government strongly believed in the idea of a free and independent media as did the Taoiseach.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, Mr Murphy said Mr Varadkar's reported comments had been taken out of context.
"He's had an exchange with a group of young people and part of what he has said has been selectively leaked to the press and now been taken out of context," he said.
A number of opposition politicians also called on Mr Varadkar to clarify his comments.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said: "The Taoiseach may believe that 'a free, fair and balanced press is the cornerstone of our democracy,' but his deeds and moral leadership carry more weight.
"No one doubts that Ireland's links to the United States of America are hugely important, and that such trips to New York are strategically valuable to Ireland's interests.
"But whatever about criticising the media when at home on the campaign trail, for Ireland's Head of Government to attack the Irish media when on a diplomatic and strategic trade mission is wholly inappropriate."
Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea said he was "flabbergasted" by the comments given that "there is no leader in the history of this State or any state who has enjoyed a greater honeymoon period from the media than Leo Varadkar.
@willieodea on @campaignforleo accusing media of trivialising politics. "This is guy who arranged a photograph of himself putting a spoon in a dishwasher, gets photos of socks & sends them all over the world..." pic.twitter.com/iaC4DIdDyV— RTÉ Politics (@rtepolitics) July 4, 2018
"He accuses the media of trivialising politics. This was the guy who arranged for a photograph of himself putting a spoon in dishwasher, gets photos of socks and sends them all over the world and giggles in Downing Street at the mention of a certain film staring Hugh Grant."
Mr O'Dea said President Trump's modus operandi is to undermine the media and "Leo Varadkar appears to agree with that".