Wednesday 29 January 2020

Fine Gael to drop Verona Murphy: 'It was a two-horse race and she finished third'

 

Verona Murphy. Photo: Mary Browne
Verona Murphy. Photo: Mary Browne
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fine Gael's Verona Murphy is all but certain to be dropped by the party after a by-election review was told she finished third in a two-horse race.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe visited Wexford over the weekend to get the views of the local organisation about what went wrong during last month's campaign.

He found a membership deeply divided over Ms Murphy's performance and her controversial comments about immigrants.

In the build-up, the by-election was seen as a straight shoot-out between Ms Murphy and Fianna Fáil's Malcolm Byrne.

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However, the president of the Irish Road Haulage Association's campaign ran into trouble after she suggested asylum seekers coming to Ireland should be "deprogrammed" as they may have been "infiltrated by Isis".

While Ms Murphy apologised twice, her campaign team later released a video claiming she was the victim of a character assassination by the media.

Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys

On Saturday, the Taoiseach said on radio that the video, which featured a number of ministers, made him question whether her apology was sincere.

His comments were a prelude to a debate among Fine Gael officers and public representatives in Wexford on Sunday night.

They met to assess the fall-out from the controversy and whether Ms Murphy should remain on the party ticket for the imminent general election.

Sources told the Irish Independent that supporters of the candidate were defiant in their belief that she was hard done by.

Avril Doyle
Avril Doyle

However, one person present argued: "It was a two-horse race and she came third."

While Ms Murphy was second after the first count with 9,543 votes, she was overtaken by Labour's George Lawlor on transfers.

Mr Byrne won the seat vacated by Mick Wallace when he became an MEP.

Among those to speak in defence of Ms Murphy was former TD Avril Doyle.

A source who attended the meeting said: "Verona's team seemed to suggest that it was everybody else's fault except her own. They claimed it was the media's fault in the first instance and that Verona wasn't allowed to explain herself."

Fine Gael imposed an effective media ban on Ms Murphy in the latter days of the campaign.

And while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar did travel to the constituency for a canvass, party officials did their best to prevent the media finding out about the visit.

One source said Ms Murphy's team blames party headquarters for stifling her efforts to clarify the situation. "There was no remorse shown. It was the media and then Fine Gael that wouldn't allow her to explain herself," they said.

Ms Murphy was not at the meeting but it is understood she has held talks with senior figures on her future.

The party is concerned that if she is dropped, Ms Murphy could run as an independent candidate which would damage its chances of holding two seats in the constituency. Ministers Michael D'Arcy and Paul Kehoe are Fine Gael's other candidates. Ultimately it will be a decision for Mr Donohoe, Fine Gael's director of elections, and Mr Varadkar to decide the action to take.

But a number of sources said they anticipate that just like Maria Bailey, Ms Murphy will be deselected "sooner rather than later".

Irish Independent

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