The Minister for Transport has apologised for comments he made in the Dáil today, in which he referred to Sinn Féin’s transport spokeswoman as a "donkey".

Speaking to RTÉ News, Shane Ross said he apologised for any offence caused by his "analogy", saying he got "caught up in the heat of the debate".

He had made the comment while responding to criticism levelled by Imelda Munster over Brexit.

Mr Ross had said: "You came in, as you normally do, and you are like a donkey at the last race... at the last fence - you upset the whole apple-cart."

The Sinn Féin TD said in a statement subsequently: "I don't think that this is an appropriate way for the minister to conduct himself. What message does this send out to other women who may have an interest in getting involved in politics?"

Speaking later on RTÉ's Drivetime, Ms Munster questioned whether the minister would make such a comment to a male colleague - adding she had never heard him do so.

Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, joined in the criticism of the minister. 

In a tweet, Mr McGrath said: "We all say stupid things in the heat of the moment, but this comment seemed to have been considered. Shane Ross stepped over the line here".

The leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Howlin, has said the comments by Mr Ross  gave "... yet another reason why he is not worthy to be a member of Government". 

The clash in Dáil occurred during questions over the confusion faced by cross-border drivers regarding the need to carry 'green cards' as proof of insurance in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Ms Munster said she believed she knew why the  minster had used what she called "distasteful comments" in the Dáil.

She said: "I know why he did it - to mask his utter incompetence on this issue [of green cards]". 

However, she said she decided to seek an apology after considering the issue, because his comments "might deter other women becoming a politician" if they were not tested. 

In his commentary in the Dáil, Mr Ross had praised two other Sinn Féin TDs - Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Pearse Doherty - for their "sensible discussion" on the topic yesterday, saying their were "representing their communities extraordinarily well". 

However, he then went on to use the term "donkey" regarding Ms Munster's role, drawing an intervention by the Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat the Cope Gallagher, who advised the minister only to use parliamentary language.

The Sinn Féin deputy branded him "a disgrace" in the chamber.