Monday 23 September 2019

The 'posh' middle-class defender of working poor

New TD Paul Murphy's journey from Goatstown to Tallaght

TD Paul Murphy
TD Paul Murphy

Daniel McConnell

Since being dumped by the people of Dublin as an MEP last May, Paul Murphy pulled pints in a bar as he plotted his political comeback.

he didn't have to wait long. Just five months on, the 31-year-old socialist from south Dublin is the Dail's newest TD after he caused a shock upset in the Dublin South West by election last weekend.

We met for our interview in the Dail's visitor bar last Thursday. I order tea. He has a cappuccino.

Mr Murphy is the young fee-paying school educated, middle class defender of the working poor.

He insists his well-to-do accent is not a factor for his supporters in Dublin South West, who just want someone who will work hard for them.

Freely admitting he grew up in "privilege" in Goatstownas, the Anti-Austerity Alliance TD is a young radical with a twist. His posh accent suggests he might be more at home beside the likes of Fine Gael gentry - but his politics tell a very different story.

Over the past 10 years the activist has railed and protested against the war in Iraq, the introduction of college fees, the Shell to Sea project, bin charges, the ongoing blockade of Gaza by Israel, the property tax and now water charges. He has been arrested more than half a dozen times and was thrown into an Israeli prison for a week after being captured on a flotilla to Gaza in 2011 while he was an MEP. He was slapped with a 10-year ban from entering Israel.

He learned to deal with tragedy from a young age when his father Kieran died at the young age of just 42, when he was just a boy. "My dad died when I was 10 or 11 from cancer. My mother is distrustful of politicians - but no, they weren't hugely political."

Kieran 'Ki' Murphy was a native of The Mall in Castlebar. At the time of his death he was CEO of Mars Ireland. One of Mr Murphy's uncles is Michael Murphy, the renowned broadcaster, psychoanalyst and author.

"It was a very middle-class childhood, which is privileged compared to many, most people in this country. The kind of system we have is unjust and wrong and it needs to be changed. And the power which can change that is ordinary working class people."

His journey to radical socialism began when at the age of 15 became captivated by the anti-capitalism movement. The 1999 Battle of Seattle was a seminal event for the aspiring politician.

"I had pictures on my wall from the Battle of Seattle. I was reading Marx, Trotsky and Chompsky while listening to bands like the Manic Street Preachers and Rage against the Machine,"

He joined the Socialist Party before arriving in UCD in 2001. "There wasn't much of a left movement in UCD when I arrived. But a few of us developed it and achieved some real success during our time."

In his first year, he single-handedly defeated the incumbent Students' Union on a referendum to commercialise itself. He has been director for elections for the Socialists in Dublin South West for most of the last decade, and was co-opted to replace Joe Higgins as MEP in 2011, when the Socialist leader was elected to the Dail. The last of five people on Higgins' substitute list, Murphy had worked with Higgins in Brussels when he first elected in 2009.

Now a TD, Murphy hopes to secure a place on the Finance Committee, now that Higgins is moving on to the Banking Inquiry. Buoyed by his election and the major march in Dublin last weekend, Murphy's has vowed to fight the water charges "tooth and nail", and is willing to go to jail rather than pay.

Mr Murphy took his Dail seat for the first time on Budget Day. Like his time as an MEP, Murphy claims he will only take a net salary of under €20,000 a year out of the €96,000 TD salary. The balance, he says, will go towards campaigning and other socialist activities. His initial impressions of life in Leinster House are far from positive. "Politics in the Dail is just so juvenile. Enda Kenny doesn't answer questions. Joan Burton doesn't answer questions and government backbenchers heckle and shout like rowdy children," he told the Sunday independent.

Mr Murphy defied the odds by snatching victory from the jaws of by-election defeat from Sinn Fein's Cathal King, the bookmakers' runaway favourite. His campaign was marked by his deliberate attacking of Sinn Fein's apparent weakness and inconsistency on the water charges.

But a social media controversy that erupted a fortnight ago forced an embarrassing apology from Mary Lou McDonald and helped turn the tide in his favour.

"We didn't think it was likely we would win, but we felt we had an outside chance. The plan was stand this time with a view to the next general election."

At a crucial moment in the campaign, a Facebook posting involving a conversation between Sinn Féin supporter Jason Roe and someone calling themselves 'Paul Murphy', and using the same name and photograph as the ex-MEP, surfaced online. It suggested Murphy had been lying about his stance on water charges. Once posted online the fake conversation was immediately shared by Mary Lou McDonald and others in Sinn Fein.

Murphy immediately went on the offensive and within a couple of hours the post was withdrawn. Mary Lou issued an abject apology. Sinn Fein were rattled. "It worked to our favour. It turned a section of media on to the idea they were under pressure. They were going around that the AAA were lying, and here exposed was a lie."

Sunday Independent

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