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Lise Hand: Zen socialist a bit ruffled by questions about 'posh boy' background

HALF-A-DOZEN lads were lined up outside Fine Gael's headquarters on Mount Street yesterday morning, and each was holding a white placard bearing a black numeral.

The monochrome tableau added up to 114,600 -- which, according to a spokesman for the United Left Alliance (ULA), is the number of jobs which have been lost since the Lisbon II referendum in 2009.

Standing on the steps above them holding aloft a Fine Gael 'Yes to Jobs' poster from this 2009 battle (which had the Yes crossed out -- somewhat confusingly, as it appeared to convey an aversion to jobs) were ULA members Clare Daly and Joan Collins and -- after he scurried up late and a little breathless -- Joe Higgins.

And in among them was a slightly built, casually dressed, fresh-faced chap, happily holding his corner of the Fine Gael sign.

He could easily have passed for a college student on the skite from lectures, but he is in fact a member of the European Parliament, representing the constituency of Dublin.

Paul Murphy explained the reason for holding the photo-call outside the Fine Gael HQ.

"We're highlighting the fact that there are over 100,000 less jobs in this country now," he declared. "And it proves you can't trust these people. They're telling lies in this campaign like they told lies in the last campaign on the question of funding and so on," he added.

Most citizens wouldn't recognise our youngest MEP (he has just turned 29), for he wasn't actually elected.

Paul Murphy took over the plum job from Joe Higgins when his Socialist Party comrade was voted into the Dail last year.

Or, at least, most folk certainly wouldn't have recognised him until the No to the treaty campaign kicked off in recent weeks. For now he is everywhere -- his is the only face which features on the ULA's anti-austerity posters.

Also, he has proved adept at attention-grabbing soundbites, such as when he blasted the Finance Minister's recent declaration that a No vote would mean a tougher Budget as "an attempt to put a gun to the heads of the public and force them to vote Yes".

But despite this sharp rise in his profile, remarkably little is known of the MEP.

He may have had Joe Higgins for a mentor, but in truth his own background is closer to that of his ULA colleague, Richard 'Posh Boy' Barrett.

Like the People before Profit TD, Paul was born and reared in South Dublin; he grew up in the well-heeled suburb of Goatstown, and attended St Killian's German School nearby.

Also like Richard, he went to UCD and after graduation with a law degree, Paul tutored in the college, as did the Dun Laoghaire deputy.

And Paul has family ties to Castlebar, the home of the Taoiseach -- his late father Ciaran, who was the CEO of Mars Ireland, came from the town.

His family tree does contain one familiar name -- his uncle is Michael Murphy, well-known broadcaster, psychotherapist and author.

Paul became active in leftwing politics when he was 15 year old -- a move prompted "by looking around the world, the poverty and inequality," he said. "I was already a Socialist when the Iraq War happened but that would have been a definitive moment as well."

After his law degree he began a PhD, but hasn't completed it, working as a full-time activist for the Socialist Party since leaving college (his only foray into elections was with the student's union, but he was unsuccessful).

He'll get his first taste of a real contest when he has to run for his European seat in a tight three-seater constituency in two years' time -- or failing that, the Ballinteer-based politician could have a go at taking a seat in the bear-pit of Dublin South but Paul's surprisingly blase about his future.

"For me it's really not about being an MEP or being a TD," he shrugged. "I'm content to be involved in the struggle for a fundamentally different society. If I were not to win the MEP seat in two years' time, politically it would be a blow, but personally it wouldn't bother me".

But the Zen Socialist did look a little ruffled when asked what a posh boy like him is doing in a leftwing party.

"I don't accept that I'm posh, you know," he retorted. "And the struggle for a just society is a struggle that people from any walk of life can engage in".