Sabina Higgins, the wife of President Michael D Higgins, has said she strongly condemns the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. But she defended her recent comments on the war, saying she was dismayed by the criticism.

In a statement, Ms Higgins moved to clarify comments she made in a letter to the Irish Times in which she did not criticise the Russian invasion of Ukraine but called on both sides to negotiate and agree a ceasefire.

This contravened the Government's position which has repeatedly urged Russia to withdraw from Ukraine unconditionally.

Ms Higgins said: "I have, from its outset, strongly condemned the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and I cannot be but dismayed that people would find anything unacceptable in a plea for peace and negotiations when the future of humanity is threatened by war, global warming and famine."

In the letter to the Irish Times, Ms Higgins had said until the world persuades Russia and Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations, "the long haul of terrible war will go on".

The letter raised eyebrows within the Government, particularly because it had been published on the official website, before being removed.

Addressing the issue of the use of the President's official website, Ms Higgins said: "Last week I had been asked about my letter to the Irish Times, which I had written in a personal capacity, by a number of people who had missed it, and had not been able to access it online.

"I therefore put it on my dedicated section of the website as I have done for the last number of years. Having put my letter up, I subsequently took it down when I saw it being presented as not being from myself, but from the general website."

President Michael D Higgins issued a statement at the weekend reiterating his condemnation of the war in Ukraine following criticism of his wife for writing the letter.

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Earlier, Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Robert Troy said it would be "helpful" if Áras an Uachtaráin were to clarify how the letter by Ms Higgins ended up on the official website of the President of Ireland.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Troy said: "To be fair to the President he has come out and clarified his utter condemnation of the Russian invasion.

"And while Ms Higgins obviously wrote the letter, as I take it with good intentions, it is a worry that the Russian ambassador welcomed the intervention that she made, and it is a worry that that letter ended up on the official website of the Áras."

Mr Troy said that he was not aware if there has been any communication between the Government and Áras an Uachtaráin on the issue, but that Ms Higgins was entitled to her opinion.

Mr Troy was not the first politician to comment publicly on the matter.

In the days that followed, Ukrainian member of parliament Kira Rudik described Ms Higgins' call for a negotiated settlement of the war as "under-informed" and "painful", while the Ukrainian Ambassador to Ireland said she did not believe the letter was the official position of the President of Ireland.

Yesterday, Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick City Willie O'Dea said he had been contacted by a large number of Ukrainians who were very hurt and upset about what had happened.

Two Government senators also criticised the letter in recent days. Fine Gael's John McGahon said was "inappropriate", while Fianna Fail's Malcolm Byrne said that he did not agree with parts of Ms Higgins' letter.