Monday 9 December 2019

Varadkar faces backlash as FG set to abandon Verona Murphy

‘Doesn’t represent our values’: Verona Murphy infuriated senior Fine Gael officials
‘Doesn’t represent our values’: Verona Murphy infuriated senior Fine Gael officials
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Fine Gael looks set to drop controversial candidate Verona Murphy as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar faces a backlash over the party's by-election wipeout.

Mr Varadkar and those around him are being urged to ditch the "arrogance and hubris" amid growing concern among TDs about Fine Gael's ability to attract transfers from other parties in order to win seats in next year's general election.

Fine Gael failed to take any of the four Dáil seats up for grabs at the weekend despite expectations it could land at least one in Dublin Mid-West where Sinn Féin was ultimately victorious.

Fianna Fáil retained Cork-North Central and took the Dáil seat in Wexford on a good day for Micheál Martin's party, while the Green Party was victorious in Dublin Fingal.

Mr Varadkar will aim to reset the agenda in the coming days with many in the party expecting that Ms Murphy will be dropped from the general election ticket in Wexford following a controversial campaign. One senior Fine Gael source said: "She's going to be dropped, that's my understanding."

Fine Gael already has junior ministers Paul Kehoe and Michael D'Arcy running again in Wexford and is unlikely to win three seats next year.

Wipeout: Verona Murphy and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan at the count centre, in Wexford Town. Photo: Patrick Browne
Wipeout: Verona Murphy and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan at the count centre, in Wexford Town. Photo: Patrick Browne

Despite being backed by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, Ms Murphy has privately been abandoned by senior ministers.

"She thought she was too big for the party," said one Fine Gael Cabinet minister.

A second said: "She should not be a candidate for our party again in any guise. She doesn't represent our values."

Mr Flanagan is also under pressure for comments defending Ms Murphy, while claiming that another by-election candidate in another constituency, journalist and anti-immigration advocate Gemma O'Doherty, got "something of a free pass, perhaps maybe from former colleagues in the media".

His remarks were branded "bizarre" and "stupid" by two Fine Gael senior ministers.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty told Newstalk she did "not subscribe" to Mr Flanagan's view.

Ms Murphy's candidacy was dogged by controversy after she repeatedly linked migrants with Isil. While she later apologised, the release of an unsanctioned campaign video - in which she hit out at a "character assassination" by the media - on the eve of polling day infuriated senior Fine Gael figures.

Mr Varadkar labelled it "kind of bizarre" while Fine Gael figures believe Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's comments that "that kind of tone, that kind of sense of enmity will not play a part in the Fine Gael election campaign" are a signal she will be ditched.

Mr Donohoe is Fine Gael's director of organisation and responsible for candidate selection. Yesterday he said he had nothing to add to those remarks.

Ms Murphy is unlikely to go quietly, having repeatedly said on Saturday she would be looking to build on her by-election result in the general election next year - meaning a Dáil bid as an Independent is on the cards.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar is set to face a backlash at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting this week. One senior TD privately said: "The party has to broaden its appeal. There's a substantial number of voters who are very unhappy.

"The main thing is, it's not just a wake-up call, it's the last chance saloon now. There's no way we'll get back into power in terms of being transfer friendly unless we get clarity on issues.

"The party is not appealing to anybody at the moment. It's a vulnerable time for the leadership. They need to change the arrogance and hubris."

Fine Gael TD Peter Burke said he was concerned by the percentage of transfers the party was getting, compared with Fianna Fáil. "I'd be hopeful that the question we'd be able to put and the plans we'd be able to put to the people would be sufficient to at least hold our own. It going to be tight between both parties," he said.

Irish Independent

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