TD Murphy accused of 'ignorance' after President abused by water bill protesters
Left-wing TD Paul Murphy has been accused of "wilful ignorance" after he claimed President Michael D Higgins is a legitimate target for protest and that his office is not above politics.
The Dublin South-West TD was strongly condemned from within both Government and Opposition circles last night after he defended the right of those who protested as President Higgins left a north Dublin school on Sunday.
One of the demonstrators who labelled the President a "midget parasite", Derek Byrne, regularly attends anti-water charges events.
Mr Byrne apologised for the use of the term "midget" during an interview with broadcaster Niall Boylan on 'Classic Hits 4fm', but stood by the other insults levelled at the President.
The controversy over the abusive protest outside Colaiste Eoin in Finglas has now engulfed the new Dáil deputy.
Mr Murphy last night rejected the criticism against him but condemned the "personal abuse aimed at the President". However, he sparked further outrage after stating he believes the President is a legitimate target for protest.
"I have distanced myself from any personal abuse. However, he is a political figure," Mr Murphy told the Irish Independent.
"People had illusions in the President that he would not sign into law the water charges, or would delay them by calling a Council of State," said the Anti-Austerity Alliance TD.
Both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil clearly distanced themselves from the remarks last night when contacted by the Irish Independent.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he "does not agree" with Mr Murphy, while Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin insisted that the President is above politics.
"The scenes of people harassing and abusing our President are outrageous and absolutely unacceptable. The holder of the office of President is above politics, represents the entire nation and deserves respect," Mr Martin said.
"Those involved and those public representatives who would seek to justify their actions should reflect seriously on what happened and the very negative precedent they are trying to set in Irish public life," he added.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the protest "amounted to an attack on the Constitution" while a spokesman for Taoiseach Enda Kenny also criticised the remarks by Mr Murphy.
"Paul Murphy's claim shows both a surprising, if wilful ignorance of the constitutional status of the President," the spokesman said.
áras an Uachtaráin said it would not be making any comment on the protest or wider media comment, however, the events have sparked anger with the Labour Party. Mr Higgins was a former Galway West TD before he was elected President, securing over one million votes in 2011.
The next anti-water charges protest is due to take place on Saturday as Government sources predict the abuse levelled at Mr Higgins will further damage the campaign advocating non-payment.