Wednesday 11 December 2019

Fionnán Sheahan: 'Racism and bullying allegations not image Varadkar wants for his new FG'


Fine Gael’s Verona Murphy. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Fine Gael’s Verona Murphy. Photo: Dylan Vaughan
Fionnán Sheahan

Fionnán Sheahan

Leo Varadkar is having his own John McNulty moment.

The Taoiseach's judgment is proving no better than his predecessor.

Remember John McNulty? The full sorry tale of political chicanery is still coming out five years later. Here's the latest skinny.

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Enda Kenny was attending a swanky event at the renovated Lissadell House in Sligo in the summer of 2014.

A cousin introduced him to John McNulty, a business man from Donegal who had run for Fine Gael in the local elections. He was a decent fellah but he came up short on a bad day for the party all over.

Undeterred, McNulty was interested in a career in politics. The party was seeking a general election candidate in south Donegal to replace the veteran TD Dinny McGinley.

Leo Varadkar with Verona Murphy
Leo Varadkar with Verona Murphy

Kenny liked the cut of McNulty's jib and said he'd see what he could do. Weeks later, Fine Gael's hierarchy met to discuss who to run in the Seanad by-election caused by the election of Deirdre Clune as an MEP.

A couple of contenders were discussed and then Kenny threw out McNulty's name.

Did he qualify for the Seanad Cultural and Education Panel?

READ MORE: Profile: Who is Verona Murphy? The self-made businesswoman with Taoiseach's support

A nod and a wink later, McNulty was appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Now he did.

And from there the whole affair came unstuck.

A furore later and McNulty, at the behest of the party leadership, ended up asking Fine Gael TDs and Senators not to vote for him as it was too late to remove his name from the ballot paper.

The irony that dawned later was McNulty would have qualified for the Seanad without the board nomination.

Lesson from the past: Enda Kenny and former Senead candidate John McNulty
Lesson from the past: Enda Kenny and former Senead candidate John McNulty

Kenny had failed to see the public had grown tired of the strokery and the croneyism. He got his comeuppance with the downfall of a handpicked candidate who did no wrong.

The European elections 2019 have again prompted by-elections. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has his own personally crafted candidate.

Varadkar has a soft spot for lorry drivers. His grandfather Thomas Howell operated a small haulage business transporting crops for local farmers in Waterford.

READ MORE: Fine Gael 'in dark' on bullying case against besieged candidate Verona Murphy

When he was minister for transport, the Irish Road Haulage Association brought along a vintage truck from that era in the early part of the century. It tugged at the future Taoiseach's heart-strings.

Verona Murphy's presidency of the IRHA came later.

The Taoiseach was impressed by her outing on the impact of Brexit. She was an outspoken businesswoman from beyond the mainstream with a national profile - a Varadkar-era kind of Fine Gael candidate.

Murphy was put directly on the general election ticket for Wexford and anointed as the by-election candidate.

The Taoiseach describes her as "one of the most formidable women to enter politics in recent years". Verona Murphy's slogan is "she's local and vocal". Fine Gael didn't check just how vocal she can be.

Oblivious to the ignorant views of a candidate he was supposed to be managing and minding for the past month, Charlie Flanagan has outdone himself to secure the accolade of most clueless director of elections.

Considering the Justice Minister carried out the same role in Gay Mitchell's Presidential election campaign, he's chalked up another disastrous campaign on to his belt.

Aside from stoking the race debate, Murphy's base comments on migrants displayed a remarkable level of ignorance from someone so lauded by the leader of the country.

Varadkar likes to set his own bar of standards expected.

He had no problem wading into Fianna Fáil's Lorraine Clifford-Lee over her remarks about Travellers and others.

He had no problem ditching Maria Bailey as a Fine Gael candidate because she was damaging the party.

When it comes to his own star runner, Varadkar's got a huge blind spot which calls his intuition into question.

Let's not be naive - Fine Gael is in with a shot of winning.

If she gets elected, Verona Murphy will be the first TD elected under Varadkar's leadership of Fine Gael.

She's accused of racism and claims of bullying which, to be fair, she denied when those claims were made.

Still it hardly fits with the liberal image Varadkar wishes to portray to the modern voter.

Varadkar has yet to realise winning a facile by-election isn't worth the reputation of him and his party.

A John McNulty-style abandonment is called for.

Irish Independent

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