Sinn Fein probe into WhatsApp group describing Higgins as 'the leprechaun'
Sinn Fein has declined to say if members will be disciplined over a WhatsApp exchange about President Michael D Higgins deemed "inappropriate" by the party.
A private group was shut down after details emerged of an exchange which occurred during the RTE Radio One debate in which Ciaran Doherty, a party official in Finglas, said "they could at least give the leprechaun a booster seat".
The party has confirmed that the WhatsApp group has been closed down but said it is still trying to determine the facts around the exchange when asked if those at the centre of the controversy will be punished.
Councillor Anthony Connaghan, who sits on Dublin City Council, yesterday apologised for his comments in the group.
He had responded "that's gas" to the initial message, before going on to say the President's mic has to be angled downward "as it would be blocking his face".
In a statement shared online, Mr Connaghan said: "Yesterday I commented in a WhatsApp conversation about a post that was inappropriate and offensive to [Michael D Higgins]. I realise I was wrong to do this and I apologise to the President for any hurt caused."
The messages, first revealed in the Irish Daily Star, were deemed "inappropriate and disrespectful" by the party who said it contravened their social media policy.
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin criticised the comments.
"Vulgar abuse is no substitute for policy," Mr Howlin said.
He accused the party of having a "political reaction" to the group, noting the party has a history of allegations about bullying within its ranks.
"I think it was a political response on this occasion because they know there would be a political reaction in the middle of a political campaign," he said.
"There is a need to ensure anyone who wants to serve in public office can do so without the threat of bullying and Sinn Fein has a long way to go."
In response to queries about the exchange, a campaign spokesperson for Mr Higgins said he had pledged that he and his supporters would conduct a respectful campaign and "work to sustain the dignity of the office of President, which belongs not to any individual, but to the present and future citizens of Ireland.
"That's why it's important that this Presidential election campaign is conducted with dignity and respect by all."