Thursday 5 December 2019

Fine Gael believes Murphy will top poll despite Isil comments row

‘She is getting a great result on the doorsteps’

Confident: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and candidate Verona Murphy canvas in Wexford Credit Union. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Confident: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and candidate Verona Murphy canvas in Wexford Credit Union. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Fine Gael believes Verona Murphy will top the poll after the first count in the Wexford by-election today, giving her a chance of a shock Dáil seat.

Leo Varadkar has backed the Fine Gael candidate despite a controversial campaign where she repeatedly linked migrants in Ireland to Isil - remarks she later apologised for.

The party privately acknowledges the difficulties her election to the Dáil could cause, given Fine Gael faced calls from migrants' rights groups to abandon Ms Murphy after her remarks.

But Fine Gael figures who have canvassed with the president of the Irish Road Haulage Association believe they have won the ground war in Wexford, running a stronger campaign than Fianna Fáil favourite Malcolm Byrne.

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One Fine Gael source in Wexford said Ms Murphy's migrant comments had not adversely affected her campaign. "She is getting a great result on the doorsteps with most people believing what she said was taken out of context by the media. She could top the poll but transfers will be key. Many non-typical Fine Gael supporters likened her to Mick Wallace," they said.

"She's going to top the poll," another Fine Gael source said, adding that transfers would be crucial when the count gets under way tomorrow.

Ironically Ms Murphy's election to the Dáil this weekend could mean one of her first acts as a TD would be to take part in a vote of confidence in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy on Tuesday.

Ms Murphy criticised the minister during her turbulent campaign, but a senior Fine Gael source insisted she would "of course" back the embattled minister.

Defending his campaign last night, Malcolm Byrne insisted: "We have run a positive and constructive campaign setting out ideas to deal with the challenges this county faces. I think voters in Wexford will reject Fine Gael's failures in health, housing, agriculture."

A senior Fianna Fáil source admitted that Ms Murphy is "still in the race" but expressed the view that Mr Byrne will ultimately take the seat with transfers from Labour candidate George Lawlor.

They also said that Fianna Fáil will hold its seat in Cork North-Central.

Councillor Pádraig O'Sullivan is expected to succeed Billy Kelleher, who was elected to the European Parliament in May. Fine Gael gives Senator Colm Burke a chance of causing an upset following a strong campaign.

However, the party has given up on Senator James Reilly regaining his Dáil seat in Dublin Fingal with suggestions that the Fine Gael vote in the constituency is likely to collapse.

Fianna Fáil is also not expecting Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee to take a seat following a campaign mired by controversy over tweets from several years ago in which she spoke about Travellers and others in derogatory terms.

The north Co Dublin seat is seen as a battle between Labour councillor Duncan Smith, who the party has mobilised strong support for, and Green Party councillor Joe O'Brien, who is expected to benefit most of the party's four Dáil by-election candidates from voters' increased focus on the climate emergency.

Fine Gael is very confident that councillor Emer Higgins will take a seat in Dublin Mid-West, replacing the Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald.

However, Independent councillor and former Green TD Paul Gogarty could pip Ms Higgins on transfers.

Irish Independent

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