Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have rowed in behind Fine Gael Wexford by-election candidate Verona Murphy after her comments on migrants and so-called Islamic State.

Mr Varadkar said he accepts the apology issued by Ms Murphy following what he called her "foolish" words on the issues, adding that it had been a "learning experience" for her and "anyone involved in politics."

Mr Coveney expressed confidence in the candidate but said she has been "bruised" by "a very difficult few days."

Speaking in the Croatian capital Zagreb, the Taoiseach said: "She's apologised twice now and withdrawn her remarks in full, that's good enough for me. It's up to the people of Wexford to decide next week if it's good enough for them."

He said that Fianna Fáil had faced a similar controversy, and their candidate had apologised.

"I lead a Government that sent the Irish Navy to the Mediterranean to rescue migrants that were fleeing Africa, I lead a Government that has allowed asylum seekers to work for the first time once they've been in the country for nine months, I've led a Government that brought in a scheme to regularise people who became undocumented, who arrived here as students," Mr Varadkar added.

"A party in Government should be judged by their actions, not the foolish words of any one candidate at a particular time."

He said that ministers should support Ms Murphy on the campaign trail.

"We've four candidates in these by-elections and I would anticipate ministers, TDs, senators, party members will be canvassing for all four candidates."

Asked if he would also campaign in Wexford, Mr Varadkar said: "I've been there already, I'll be there again."

The Taoiseach said migration was a "sensitive area" and politicians "need to tread carefully in what they say."

He added: "But at the same time we need to acknowledge it is an issue the public talk about, and therefore politicians have to be able to talk about it too.

"The case I always make is one that is in favour of migration, one that says immigration and migration have made our economy stronger, we rely on a lot of migrants to run our public services. They would not function without them, particularly the health service, and also migration has enriched Ireland's society and culture.

"There is a difference between legal migration, which I support, and illegal migration, which any good government has to try and stop. We all need to be very cautious in what language we use.

"This has been a learning experience not just for Verona Murphy but for anyone involved in politics."

Mr Varadkar is attending a congress of the European People's Party (EPP) of which Fine Gael is a member.

Other declared candidates in the Wexford by-election are: Johnny Mythen (Sinn Féin), George Lawlor (Labour), Karin Dubsky (Green Party), Cinnamon Blackmore (People Before Profit), Jim Codd (Aontú), Melissa O'Neill (Irish Freedom Party), Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fáil) and Charlie Keddy (Ind).

Coveney believes Murphy has learned 'valuable and important lessons'

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has expressed confidence in Ms Murphy but admitted that she has been "bruised" by "a very difficult few days" following "ill-informed" comments she made about migrants.

Ms Murphy did not speak to the media today in Wexford, where she is a candidate in Friday week's by-election when Mr Coveney attended the launch of a new campus in the town for Georgia Southern University, attended by a delegation of US business and academic leaders.

Asked if her reticence with the media was on the direction of party headquarters, Mr Coveney said: "No it's not. I think she's bruised. I think it's understandable, so she's focused on meeting people on the streets and in the shops and we were in Kilmore Quay today meeting fishermen and she's trying to get back on the campaign trail.

"Any candidate running in an election for the first time that has experienced the 48 hours that Verona Murphy has experienced will have experienced a big knock in their confidence, but she is a very resilient individual and she is back working on her campaign today.

"I think she's learned some very valuable and important lessons and I think they're lessons that other candidates who are standing for election now or in the general election in a few months time should learn lessons from.

"It is not acceptable to speak about refugees or migrants in the way that we've heard in the last 48 hours. Verona regrets that deeply I think, has apologised, but I think there is much more to Verona Murphy than what people have read in the last 48 hours and I think the people of Wexford understand that."

Asked if he still has confidence in the candidate, the Tánaiste said: "I do have confidence in her" adding that he knows her quite well because of his work on Brexit, in which she has been an advocate for hauliers and Irish business.

"That's why I think everybody was frustrated and disappointed by the comments that she made, which were ill-informed in the context of refugees and asylum seekers.

"She knows that now and she has sincerely apologised for those comments and I think it's important to say, as a leader in my political party, it is not acceptable for a Fine Gael voice, a Fine Gael candidate, whether you're a minister, whether you're a TD or a senator, whether you're a councillor or whether you're running for election, to speak in a way that is irresponsible about vulnerable people like asylum seekers and refugees.

"I think Verona didn't quite understand the importance of the issue and the importance of responsible political language in terms of migrants. She certainly understands it now, I can assure you."

Mr Coveney described Ms Murphy, who is President of the Irish Road Haulage Association, as "hugely energetic" and "very popular" and someone who is passionate about Wexford.

The candidate visited a reception centre for asylum seekers in Co Waterford on Monday evening and apologised afterwards for comments she had made earlier. She said she had used the opportunity to inform herself about the situation faced by migrants.

Additional reporting Conor Kane