The Taoiseach has been heavily criticised for not treating allegations that facilities at the south-east Ireland hospice were failing. Staff had claimed a lack of resources and refrigeration issues had resulted in dead bodies being left to decompose on trolleys at the hospital. In some cases the bodies had been left to rot for so long it led to closed-coffin funerals.
In a letter sent on March 26 to the South-West Hospital Group, four consultant pathologists stated their concerns about unacceptable mortuary conditions at the hospital.
They described “body storage on the floor of the mortuary” following a “surge in activity”.
Last week, Mr Varadkar claimed “there was no evidence” to back up the claims.
However, in a statement issued on Saturday the Fine Gael leader retracted his comments and acknowledged his error of judgement.
Following a special Cabinet meeting, Mr Varadkar said: “This one I got wrong.”
The Irish Prime Minister insisted his previous remarks were made sure to hearing ”conflicting accounts”.
Mr Varadkar said: “On the one hand, a letter from four consultants making deeply disturbing claims about conditions in the mortuary, and on the other hand a statement from hospital management saying there was no evidence or supporting complaints to back up the claims.”
He added: “I did not want to jump to conclusions or to side with one group or staff against another without knowing facts or before an investigation was carried out. That’s why I said that I did not know if the claims were true or not.
“Over the course of the week corroborating statements have come to light, and complaints have been made that I believe support the views expressed by the four consultants.
“I want to apologise unreservedly to anyone who feels that I did not treat this issue with the seriousness or sensitivity it deserved.”
Meanwhile Sinn Fein has called for an independent inquiry into the claims.
Waterford Teachta Dála, David Cullinane, said there were many questions that needed answering.
He told RTE: “How can that be the case in 2019 that bodies were left on the floor of any mortuary and surely the Taoiseach has a responsibility to establish the facts.”
Mr Varadkar also confirmed planning permission has been granted for a new mortuary at the hospital.
He insists it has “never been in dispute that the mortuary is sub-standard and needs to be replaced”.