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Friday 6 December 2019

Fine Gael prepares to ditch Murphy after by-election wipeout

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy during the Wexford by-election count, which was eventually won by Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fail
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan and Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy during the Wexford by-election count, which was eventually won by Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fail

Fine Gael looks set to drop controversial candidate Verona Murphy as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar faces a backlash over the party's by-election wipeout.

Mr Varadkar and those around him are being urged to act amid growing concern among TDs about Fine Gael's ability to attract transfers from other parties to win seats in next year's general election.

Fine Gael failed to take any of the four Dail seats up for grabs at the weekend, despite expectations it could land at least one in Dublin Mid-West where Sinn Fein was victorious.

Fianna Fail retained Cork-North Central and took the Dail seat in Wexford, while the Greens were victorious in Dublin-Fingal.

Agenda

Mr Varadkar will aim to reset the agenda in the coming days with many in the party expecting that Ms Murphy will dropped from the general election ticket in Wexford after a controversial campaign.

One senior Fine Gael source said: "She's going to be dropped, that's my understanding."

Despite being backed by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan on Saturday, Ms Murphy has privately been abandoned by senior figures.

"She thought she was too big for the party," said one Fine Gael cabinet minister.

A second added: "She should not be a candidate for our party again in any guise. She doesn't represent our values."

Mr Flanagan is also under pressure for comments defending Ms Murphy while claiming that journalist and anti-immigration advocate Gemma O'Doherty, got "something of a free pass, perhaps maybe from former colleagues in the media".

Mr Flanagan's remarks were branded "bizarre" and "stupid", by two ministers.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said she did "not subscribe" to Mr Flanagan's view.

Ms Murphy's candidacy was dogged by controversy over he comments on migrants.

While she later apologised, the release of an unsanctioned campaign video, in which she hit out at a "character assassination" from the media, on the eve of polling day infuriated senior Fine Gael figures.

Mr Varadkar labelled it "bizarre", while Fine Gael figures believe Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's comments that "that kind of tone, that kind of sense of enmity will not play a part in the Fine Gael election campaign" are a signal Ms Murphy will be ditched.

Mr Donohoe is Fine Gael's director of organisation and responsible for candidate selection. Yesterday, he said he had nothing to add.

Ms Murphy is unlikely to go quietly, having repeatedly said on Saturday she would be looking to build on her by-election result in the election next year - meaning a Dail bid as an independent is on the cards.

Unhappy

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar is set to face a backlash at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting this week.

One senior TD privately said: "The party has to broaden its appeal, there's a substantial number of voters who are very unhappy.

"The main thing is it's not just a wake-up call, it's the last chance saloon now. There's no way we'll get back into power in terms of being transfer friendly unless we get clarity on issues.

"The party is not appealing to anybody at the moment. It's a vulnerable time for the leadership, they need to change the arrogance and hubris."

Fine Gael TD Peter Burke said he was concerned by the number of transfers the party is getting, compared with Fianna Fail.

"I'd be hopeful the plans we'd put to the people would be sufficient to at least hold our own. It going to be tight between both parties," he said.

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