Taoiseach Enda Kenny has held up his hands following two days of controversy over his remarks about “whingers”.
After initially saying the comment was directed at locals in his home town of Castlebar, Co Mayo, and later claiming he was talking about Fianna Fail, Mr Kenny said he wanted to withdraw the remarks.
The Taoiseach had also declined an early opportunity to apologise while on the campaign trail in Co Clare.
“Mea culpa,” he said.
“I accept that I should have clarified my remarks.
“This is strictly a local issue.”
Mr Kenny said it was “nothing to do with any member of the public”, and added: “I unreservedly withdraw that.”
The Taoiseach’s remarks at an election rally in Castlebar on Saturday afternoon were criticised by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, while Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton said “whingers” is not a word she would use.
Asked on Sunday if he regretted the comments, Mr Kenny said: “No, I don’t. Some of them wouldn’t know sunshine if they saw it.”
And it took him until a Monday morning interview on Waterford Local Radio before he revealed he was aiming his annoyance at Fianna Fail politicians in Castlebar.
Mr Kenny took close to two days to hold his hands up over the comments.
He continued: “And why wouldn’t I? Don’t I deal with them for so many years? They are quite entitled to give me their anxieties and their concerns.”
At the weekend election rally, the Fine Gael leader claimed Castlebar was home to “all-Ireland champions” for complaining, adding: “I mean the whingers that I hear every week saying there’s nothing happening.”
Mr Kenny’s Fine Gael is under pressure in the final four days of the election campaign after a series of opinion polls suggested the outgoing coalition with Labour has little prospect of being put back in office.
Bookmakers predict a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition is the most likely outcome.
Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton said “whingers” is not a phrase she would use, but denied the remarks showed an outgoing government out of touch with people who are not feeling any sense of an economic recovery.
“It is not a term I would use, but I think the important thing is the Taoiseach has heard that people have issues and difficulties,” she said.
Ms Burton said p eople in rural Ireland particularly were waiting to see any sign of the economy bouncing back.
“That pinch is definitely still there,” she said.
“People are entitled to put their views during a general election campaign.”
The Taoiseach was barracked by a handful of protesters as he visited Eishtec offices in Waterford and o ne elderly woman was knocked over as gardai moved the campaigners away from Mr Kenny’s car.
In a separate protest, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was hounded out of some estates in Crumlin, Dublin, by a handful of anti-water charge protesters.