Timing saves Verona Murphy’s scalp but poses questions for Fine Gael

Timing saves Verona Murphy’s scalp but poses questions for Fine Gael

Timing is everything, especially in politics, writes Elaine Loughlin

For Verona Murphy it is timing that has saved her scalp, but it has left her party in the most difficult of positions.

Fine Gael members are infuriated that their by-election candidate in Wexford has dragged them into what has become a worrying trend of public representatives raising the issue of race and targeting asylum seekers for cynical personal gain.

On Wednesday of last week, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan directly appealed to the public to stand up to far-right activists trying to stir up anti-migrant sentiment.

He told the Dáil he was “very disappointed” to see demonstrations outside premises due to house asylum seekers and warned that far-right anti-immigrant activists are looking for opportunities to incite fear and hatred in this country.

Just five days later, Mr Flanagan was hastily organising a visit to a direct provision centre for Ms Murphy after she rowed into the debate telling multiple media organisations that those who come here to seek asylum need to be “deprogrammed” as they may have been infiltrated by Isis.

The controversy also diverted the spotlight from the long-delayed National Broadband Plan.

When the Taoiseach and a contingent of ministers decamped to Wicklow to unveil details of the broadband roll-out, it was Ms Murphy’s comments which journalists were eager to hear about and not the €3bn infrastructural project.

Leo Varadkar was left in the unconformable position of being forced to defend the indefensible.

“Verona is a very outspoken, a very independent person,” he said. “She’s not going to be the kind of person who toes the party line. I think, on some occasions, she has got it absolutely wrong. But she is the selected candidate. And I will certainly be campaigning with her before polling day,” said Mr Varadkar.

The controversy followed the Taoiseach to Zagreb yesterday when he was again questioned on Ms Murphy’s remarks.

He said: “I think she’s apologized twice now for what she said. And she’s withdrawn her remarks in full. That’s good enough for me. It’s up to people in Wexford next week to decide whether that’s good enough for them.”

The problem is that Fine Gael has been left with no choice and must continue to back Ms Murphy given the proximity to the by-election.

The deadline to formally withdraw from the race expired last Saturday, 24 hours before the first of her remarks began to trickle out in the media.

This means that even if Fine Gael decided to deselect its candidate over her comments her name would still appear on the ballot paper next Friday.

But her comments also raise questions around candidate selection.

How did the party of Government allow such a person — albeit with a previous high profile through her involvement with the Road Hauliers Association — to stand for it without sussing out her views, which clearly are at odds with its policies?

If they really want to quell dangerous far-right elements emerging in political discourse, Fine Gael and other political parties should really start by looking within their own ranks.

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