Wednesday 11 December 2019

Coveney on the defensive over absent TD as Fine Gael seethes

Dara Murphy has sparked controversy in Fine Gael. Photo: Robbie Reynolds
Dara Murphy has sparked controversy in Fine Gael. Photo: Robbie Reynolds

Ralph Riegel

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted the controversy over Dara Murphy's expected resignation from the Dáil did not seriously damage Fine Gael in the Cork by-election.

However, other senior Fine Gael officials were privately seething over news of the former EU Affairs Minister's departure emerging just days before the Cork North Central by-election vote.

One angrily warned that the timing "caused maximum damage" to Fine Gael in the constituency and the hopes of veteran Senator Colm Burke, who missed out on a seat. "It was vindictive," another fumed.

Mr Murphy - who did not attend the by-election count - issued a statement on Saturday night defending his decision to remain a TD despite being largely absent from the Dáil for the past two years as he worked as a campaign director for the European People's Party.

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He insisted he has complied with all Dáil rules on expenses having claimed full allowances in that period. "I will continue to provide any evidence required to the appropriate authorities. I attended the required 120 days at Leinster House in 2018 and should achieve the requisite number for 2019 and will make the statutory return when due."

He will resign as a TD this month to take up a position in the cabinet of Bulgaria's EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

Mr Coveney dismissed claims the issue of Mr Murphy's resignation and work profile within Cork North Central had badly damaged the party locally.

"Honestly, I didn't (get that reaction on the doorsteps). The Dara Murphy story was only a big story in the last few days," he said. "I think that story has not had as big an impact as some people are suggesting.

"If it had, I am not sure the Fine Gael vote would have been up three or four per cent."

Mr Murphy's resignation will not trigger a by-election before the likely general election next year.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was scathing, however. "I was amazed it took so long for this thing to surface - what would be agreed across the northside is that Dara really has not been active as a TD for two years since Leo Varadkar did not reappoint him as minister," he said.

"He should have resigned much earlier - and to announce the resignation when he did, two days before the by-election, was somewhat bizarre. We could have had two vacancies that could have been filled here (at the by-election). Of course it should now be investigated."

Irish Independent

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