Belfast Telegraph

Brendan Howlin: Fine Gael were ‘testing the water’ with Verona Murphy

The Labour Party leader has said Fine Gael should have acted more decisively and deselected controversial candidate Verona Murphy sooner.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin has criticised Fine Gael (Niall Carson/PA)
Labour leader Brendan Howlin has criticised Fine Gael (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aine McMahon PA

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has accused Fine Gael of “testing the water” with controversial candidate Verona Murphy.

Mr Howlin said he was “deeply concerned” about remarks made by Ms Murphy in the recent by-election campaign and warned we will see more of them in next year’s campaign.

Ms Murphy ran a controversial by-election campaign which saw her come in for sustained criticism for a series of comments about migrants.

She failed to win a seat and was dropped from the general election ticket by Fine Gael in December.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Howlin said Ms Murphy should have been deselected by Fine Gael before having a chance to run.

There's a lot of people now doing hard work and working 39 or 40 hours a week and can't afford basic things like being able to buy or rent a house. Brendan Howlin

“I was deeply concerned about the remarks made by Verona Murphy during the campaign. I was very deeply concerned that (her remarks) might have traction, and I was very glad they didn’t.

“I think that Fine Gael should have acted much more decisively and much earlier, in terms of saying this is not acceptable and this is not our candidate, because we’re not going to align our party with those values, but they didn’t.

“And I think many of us believe that Fine Gael were testing the waters to see how far they could get away with that sort of two stranded approach to disowning her after the event when it didn’t work – which is a different kettle of fish than to disowning her in the middle of the election by simply saying – those values, those views have no room and no space in our politics.”

Mr Howlin suggested we will see more general election candidates making similar remarks about migrants in the next election campaign.

“I think there will be more of it. I think we will see more of it being presented in the next general election. I think there’s a leadership responsibility on all of us to say that that’s not acceptable.

“We have, by and large in Ireland, kept that toxic racist scapegoating of minorities out of our political discourse – by and large, there are some obvious exceptions to that. But, if that is to be embraced by any mainstream party, I think it will have a very negative effect and a very divisive and damaging effect on politics.”

Looking ahead, he predicted Labour will double its current number of seats from seven to 14 and said they will go into government with any party that adheres to its five red lines.

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Brendan Howlin in his office at Leinster House (Niall Carson/PA)

They include the establishment of a living wage, a housing policy to build 80,000 affordable homes over five years, Slaintecare and addressing the gender pay gap.

“We have the biggest gap in pay in the OECD. The gap between the lowest paid or the highest paid in Ireland is the worst in the OECD, that we mask that by having good progressive taxation policy largely put in place by the Labour Party, and by good progressive social welfare provision again largely championed by the Labour Party, but that is simply masking fundamental inequality.”

“There’s a lot of people now doing hard work and working 39 or 40 hours a week and can’t afford basic things like being able to buy or rent a house.

“There are whole categories of workers in our cities, who are cleaners or caterers and so on, who can’t afford to live in our cities. That’s just wrong. These are the big challenges for the next phase of our progressive future – we want to build an economic equality, as well as the social equality that we’ve built as a labour movement and worked so hard to achieve.”

Mr Howlin said Fine Gael will be punished in the next election for failing to empathise with the concerns of voters.

“Fine Gael will be judged very harshly over social failures. I don’t think that they empathise with the homeless, with the plight of people who can’t afford the rent. I don’t think they understand the impact of not being able to plan what you can afford to spend as a family.

“And I think if you look at the fact that we’re now facing into Christmas with 4,000 children homeless; that is an extraordinary indictment for an economy that’s doing very well and for a country that is among the richest in the world.

“The fact that we haven’t solved the housing crisis, or we haven’t solved the health crisis and health inequality issues… it is fundamentally because neither Fine Gael or Fianna Fail embrace public services in the way that a liberal party does.”

PA

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