The Irish Army has been forced to apologize to the country’s president – its commander in chief - after its head chaplain was critical from the altar of Michael D Higgins' Christmas message.

Defence Forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Conor O’Boyle issued the apology after head chaplain Msgr Eoin Thynne was critical of the lack of any reference to the Christian faith in the President’s festive message.

Msgr Thynne made his remarks in a homily at Windy Arbour Church in Dublin on Christmas Eve.

The Irish Times reports that he has since voiced concerns about the crib allegedly being removed from the Defence Forces headquarters in Kildare.

The report says the content of Msgr Thynne’s homily was raised on Irish state radio RTE on Thursday when callers said the President should have made reference to Christianity in his Christmas message.

Lieut Gen O’Boyle contacted the President’s office at Áras an Uachtaráin after the broadcast.

The Irish Times report says he wanted to: “Convey the regret of the head chaplain for any embarrassment that may have been caused to the President.”

A statement was then issued by the Irish Defence Forces press office which said the Christmas Eve homily was not intended to be a criticism of the President, who is the commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces.

The statement said: “Those who see it as such would be putting a particularly unfair interpretation of this homily.

“Instead Msgr Thynne had mentioned the President’s message in reference to the general change in society with reference to the meaning of Christmas.

“This homily should not be construed in any way as a criticism of the President or his Christmas message.”

Msgr Thynne referred all inquiries from the Irish Times to the Defence Forces press office.

The paper adds that a spokesman for President Higgins declined to comment on Lieut Gen O’Boyle’s comments.

He did refer to a passage in his Christmas address that included a reference to the spiritual dimension.

It said: “The message of Christmas, shared by many faiths, invites us to care for one another and to be, in an ethical sense, one another’s keepers.”