Monday 21 January 2019

A rumble in Rathgar: forget Leo and Simon - Eoghan and Kate is the real feud in Fine Gael

Finance Minister Michael Noonan with Kate O’Connell and Eoghan Murphy before the
last General Election
Finance Minister Michael Noonan with Kate O’Connell and Eoghan Murphy before the last General Election
Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

'That fellah is so fond of himself, he'd lick himself if he could." Before Eoghan Murphy was even a TD, a Fine Gael veteran had caustically assessed the future minister for Dublin 4.

Now Murphy is like the cat that got the cream as the director of Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael leadership campaign, on the brink of victory.

Known to the guys as 'Murph', he's a cross between David Cameron and Ross O'Carroll-Kelly.

Colloquialisms aside, Murphy drips privilege. His tip to the working classes is to roll up his sleeves, but in a careful, calculated way, which observers say is probably because he saw Barack Obama do it.

He grew up in the upmarket suburb of Sandymount, attended St Michael's College, an exclusive fee-paying school in the heart of the D4 Embassy belt. After studying in UCD and King's College London, he worked at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Deciding his country needed him more than the world, he was elected to Dublin City Council in 2009, following a highly visible campaign, and became a TD in 2011.

Kate O'Connell
Kate O'Connell

Although from a Fine Gael family, he displayed no interest in politics in his school and college days. Indeed, acting seemed a more likely road to stardom. He played the lead role of Hamlet in the school play and was a member of the dramatic society in UCD. His brother is the actor, Killian Scott, who played Tommy, the drug dealer, in 'Love Hate'.

However, the family name has also been dragged through the mud in a notorious case of real-life white collar crime.

Readers of a certain age will recall the name Russell Murphy.

In the 1980s, the well-known accountant embezzled funds placed with him by celebrities including broadcaster Gay Byrne and playwright Hugh Leonard.

Read More: Political anoraks have their day in the sun as leadership battle reveals shifting voter landscape

In his depiction of Gaybo in 'Scrap Saturday', Dermot Morgan would invariably take Murphy's name in vain.

Kate O’Connell with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and her sister, Theresa Newman Picture: Julien Behal/Maxwells
Kate O’Connell with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and her sister, Theresa Newman Picture: Julien Behal/Maxwells

Now Russell's grandson is a junior minister in the Department of Finance and the right-hand man of the putative Taoiseach.

The younger Murphy's father, Henry, is a retired barrister, best known for interrogating Celia Larkin during the Mahon Tribunal's probe into Bertie Ahern's finances.

The 35-year-old is not married but is in a relationship, keeps his politics and private life separate, and lives in the Ringsend suburb.

Despite the silver spoon upbringing, Murphy can mix it with the lads as he's funny and self-deprecating about his poshness.

During the last Dáil, he became the leader of a rag-tag group of new, young backbenchers called the 'Five-A-Side Club'. The unofficial group of upstarts wanted a greater say in party policy formulation, much to the consternation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

However, critics have attributed Varadkar's strong swing to the right to both he and Murphy being private school boys and a lack of empathy in the backroom team.

Murphy is now on the brink of destiny - a Cabinet ministry.

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Now known as Dublin Bay South, the old constituency of Dublin South-East takes in wealthy and leafy suburbs, like Ballsbridge, Donnybrook and Ranelagh.

The well-heeled burghers are known to say they don't elect TDs, they elect ministers. This is the Fine Gael heartland of Garret FitzGerald and John A Costello.

Read More: Businessman hosts 'secret supper' fundraiser for Varadkar

But there'll only be room for one minister from the area in the new order. And Kate O'Connell knows it. Murphy's constituency colleague is firmly in the Simon Coveney camp.

When the result emerges next week, the winners and losers won't be confined to the leaders, but also their followers. Murphy and O'Connell are the starkest examples and their local rivalry has become an intriguing sideshow.

O'Connell injected a bit of fire into the bellies of the party grassroots with a stirring assault on Varadkar's flurry of backers, who she described as "choreographed, co-ordinated choirboys singing for their supper".

Clearly Murphy is head choirboy. The complaint about Varadkar being out of the traps was naive, but has added spice to proceedings.

The 37-year-old mother of three is married to Morgan O'Connell, the scion of a pharmacy chain. The pair met in college in the University of Brighton. Before being elected to the Dáil, she worked in the chemists in Rathgar and was well regarded.

O'Connell hails from Fine Gael blueblood stock in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath. Her father, Michael Newman, is a former councillor.

When she arrived on the political scene, she was dismissed by some as "Big Phil's lovely girl" - a dramatic underestimation.

Phil Hogan and party headquarters saw O'Connell as a replacement for Lucinda Creighton, who left the party in a dispute over abortion legislation in 2013.

(Ironically, if Creighton had not fallen out with Fine Gael, she would probably be in Murphy's role now - and he would be out in the cold).

O'Connell would go on to replace Creighton in the general election after targeting the incumbent with a series of robust exchanges.

However, her campaign was aided by Murphy obligingly adhering to a strict divide, initiated by party HQ, handing entire prime suburbs to O'Connell. His reward was a junior ministry.

So there was some surprise last week when she referred to knowing Murphy's "form". Party activists attribute the bad blood to Murphy's support for a party rival in the local elections. There were eyebrows raised though when she hired her sister, Theresa, as her personal assistant. Nobody questioned the ability to do the job or political nous, it's just nepotism isn't the 'done thing' on Dublin's southside.

O'Connell has proven to be outspoken and engaged on issues from water charges to abortion and she is strongly pro-choice.

She came to public prominence with powerful speeches about her son being diagnosed with profound defects during pregnancy with almost the entirety of his organs outside his body, yet miraculously lived.

O'Connell has an earthy, outspoken country vibe and is not afraid to talk about rural Ireland, despite representing affluent areas of Dublin.

At her election campaign launch, a party TD present was astonished to find an enormous attendance of supporters by Dublin standards.

"She's a great bit of stuff. It was like a branch meeting down in Mayo," the party TD said.

As of now, she's set to be on the losing side this time.

But politics is a long game.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members' votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre Clune - MEP
Tony McLoughlin - TD 
Alan Farrell - TD 
Michael D'Arcy - TD 
Tom Neville - TD 
Josepha Madigan - TD 
Pat Deering - TD 
Jim Daly - TD 
Brendan Griffin - TD 
Ciaran Cannon - TD 
Colm Brophy - TD 
Peter Burke - TD 
Fergus O'Dowd - TD 
John Deasy - TD 
Joe Carey - TD 
Neale Richmond - Senator 
Catherine Noone - Senator 
Paddy Burke - Senator 
Martin Conway - Senator 
Michelle Mulherin - Senator 
Maura Hopkins - Senator 
Ray Butler - Senator 
Frank Feighan - Senator 
Maria Byrne - Senator 
Joe O'Reilly - Senator 
Kieran O'Donnell - Senator 
Brian Hayes - MEP 
Undeclared
Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *
Michael Noonan - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

Irish Independent

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