Monday 21 October 2019

'I'm making no pretence here' - Fine Gael European elections candidate Mark Durkan unable to name four streets in Dublin

  • Durkan was Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2001 to 2002
  • Taoiseach praised his role in Good Friday Agreement
  • Frances Fitzgerald the only candidate contesting that convention
  • Durkan asked if he could name four streets in Dublin West
Former SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, who will run for Fine Gael in the European Elections, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Picture credit: Damien Eagers / INM
Former SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, who will run for Fine Gael in the European Elections, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Picture credit: Damien Eagers / INM

Fionnán Sheahan and Cormac McQuinn

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, who announced that he will run for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin, was unable to name four streets in the capital earlier today and admitted that he will remain living in the North.

Mr Durkan has joined Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's party in the wake of the Fianna Fáil partnership with the SDLP.

The 58-year-old is a former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland finance minister, Westminster MP and Northern Ireland MLA.

He will run for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin alongside former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

4/3/2019, former SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, who will run for Fine Gael in the European Elections, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM
4/3/2019, former SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, who will run for Fine Gael in the European Elections, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM

Mr Durkan said he intends to remain living in the North if he is elected to the European Parliament.

He said he knows it's a "big ask" of the people of Dublin to ask for their support.

He admitted he's not suddenly going to support Dublin's Gaelic football team or Shamrock Rovers over Derry sides.

Mr Varadkar chipped in "he will be supporting the Dubs after Derry get knocked out".

Mr Durkan said the people of Dublin are "canny" and "not going to be sold a pup" and they'll be right to demand that four MEPs look after their interests and said: "they will get that with me".

He said Dublin is a proud as a capital city and people there know the national issues at stake.

Minister Regina Doherty, Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney arriving for a press conference in Dublin to announce Mark Durkan and Francis Fitzgerald will run for Fine Gael in the European Elections. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM
Minister Regina Doherty, Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney arriving for a press conference in Dublin to announce Mark Durkan and Francis Fitzgerald will run for Fine Gael in the European Elections. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / INM

Mr Durkan was asked if he could name four streets in Dublin West, a similar question to one another Northern politician, Austin Currie was asked in the 1989 general election.

Mr Currie, who was present at the press conference piped up "I was only asked for three".

Mr Durkan was not able to name four streets in Dublin West. He said: "I'm making no pretence here... I'm standing on the basis of who I am not who I'm pretending to be."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Durkan would be running for the city, the country and Northern Ireland.

He praised his role in the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Durkan was Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2001 to 2002 and the leader of the SDLP from 2001 to 2010. He lost his seat in Westminster to Sinn Féin in the last election.

He is the highest profile disgruntled SDLP member to leave the party following the Fianna Fail partnership.

His signing will be viewed as a swipe by Fine Gael at Fianna Fáil following the SDLP link up.

Frances Fitzgerald, the Dublin Mid-West TD and former Justice Minister, is the only candidate contesting that convention.

She remains the favourite to take the seat being vacated by sitting Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes, who is returning to take up a role as chief executive of the Banking and Payments Federation.

However, Mr Durkan follows the path of former SDLP member and Austin Currie in running for Fine Gael.

Mr Currie was a TD in Dublin West and presidential election candidate. His daughter, Emer Currie, will be the Taoiseach's running mate in Dublin West in the next general election.

Mr Varadkar criticised the Fianna Fail-SDLP link up last week. Pointing to the deal between the Conservatives and the DUP, he said a similar dynamic could arise if Fianna Fáil were in government.

"The decision that Fine Gael, my party, has taken is that rather than aligning ourselves with any one political party in Northern Ireland, that we think it's better for Fine Gael as a party - but also as a party of Government - to try to work with all parties, to be an honest broker where there is a disagreement and also, in particular, reach out to the centre ground of people in politics but also people beyond politics who want a shared future," he said.

Mr Varadkar does have a good relationship with Mr Durkan. The Taoiseach spoke at a dinner in honour of Mr Durkan in Derry last year, where he said he was “a towering figure in politics”.

“He was central to the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. His unshakeable belief in what was right and just delivered results for all of the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

From Derry, Mr Durkan is married to Jackie and they have one child, Dearbhail.

Mr Durkan was a member of the SDLP from the early 1980s at the height of the Troubles. In the mid 1980s, he became then leader John Hume’s parliamentary assistant in Westminster and also organised by-election campaigns for Seamus Mallon and Eddie McGrady.

During the 1990s, he became SDLP chairman and a member of the party’s peace process negotiating team in the run up to the Good Friday Agreement.

He was subsequently elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, becoming finance minister, then replacing Seamus Mallon as Deputy First Minister and becoming party leader.

Mr Durkan replaced Mr Hume as MP for Foyle in 2005, stood down as party leader in 2010, but held the Westminster seat until 2017, when he was beaten by Sinn Féin in an SDLP wipeout.

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