Eoghan Murphy resigns as TD for career in international affairs

Fine Gael will pick candidate who is ‘most likely to win’ byelection – Varadkar

Eoghan Murphy has resigned his Dáil seat. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Eoghan Murphy has resigned his Dáil seat. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Fine Gael leader and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said his party will pick the candidate who is “most likely to win” for the forthcoming byelection in Dublin Bay South.

He was speaking after the former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy announced on Tuesday morning that he is resigning his Dáil seat.

“Under our party rules in the event of a byelection the candidate is selected by the party members. Any party member in that constituency of more than two years standing has a right to vote. It will be one member, one vote, and those people, those hard-working members and activists in Fine Gael in Dublin Bay South know the potential candidates better than anyone else. I know they will pick the best candidate and the one that is most likely to win and I will support that candidate 100 per cent with all of my efforts,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach Michéal Martin said Mr Murphy was a loss to politics. He said Fianna Fáil will be contesting the election.

“I want to pay tribute to Eoghan. I think he has an exceptional parliamentarian and former minister. In many ways it is with regret to see a talented person leave Leinster House and the Oireachtas. I think we need as many talented people as we can possibly get in politics. It is a much more challenging field these days and I know he has fresher pastures given his abilities and others are looking for him. But I have to say I think he is a loss to Irish politics and I regret that very much,” he said at Collins Barracks on Tuesday.

“It is kind of an exciting byelection if you think of the potential personalities already emerging,” he added.

“As a student of electoral history, even if one is not successful in a byelection, the candidate you put forward can be particularly successful in a subsequent general election. I am not saying by the way we are not aiming to win this, we are, don’t get me wrong.”

Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin said she presumes the party will contest the byelection but there is a process that must be worked through first including consultation with the executive committee and party’s electoral taskforce.

When asked if she will support the Lord Mayor Hazel Chu if she decides to contest the election, Ms Martin said: “There is a specific process in place for selecting candidates for Dáil byelections. There will be a selection convention. It is not for me as deputy leader to step into another constituency and decide to back someone, that would be inappropriate, because it is not my constituency. What I would like to see though, I can think of a good few within that group, I would like to see a woman elected in Dublin Bay South. But that is not indicating support for Hazel per se because I can think of three or four really that jump out to me and they are all female.”

Served

Mr Murphy, who also previously served as Minister of State for Financial Services, served the constituency for a decade following election to the Dáil in 2011. Prior to that, he was a Dublin city councillor for Pembroke-Rathmines for two years.

He was also a member of the banking inquiry into the financial crisis, which issued its final report in 2016.

In a letter to Fine Gael members issued this morning, Mr Murphy said he was resigning his seat to follow a career in international affairs. It was a “personal decision”, he said.

The resignation will trigger the first byelection of this Dáil term.

Mr Murphy denied that the issue of housing ended his political career.

“I don’t see it that way at all,” he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

Mr Murphy acknowledged that his comments on co-living had been “stupid” and the way he had presented the issue had been a mistake. He still believed the concept had a purpose, in a small way, but he was frustrated that “I allowed it to become a thing. I thought there was a need for it.” To defend the concept in the manner in which he did had been a mistake.

The former Fine Gael TD had compared co-living spaces to a “very trendy, kind of boutique hotel type place”.

He survived a motion of no confidence in his performance as minister in December 2019.

Mixed emotions

Mr Murphy said he had mixed emotions about leaving politics after 12 years and while he was no longer a TD he would remain a member of Fine Gael. He explained that this was a decision that he had been considering for the last few months.

“You ask yourself, is it right to stay as a TD, taking a very generous salary from the public purse, if you’re not 100 per cent committed to it? I realised the right thing is to resign now, and allow the constituency to replace me.”

While he had not yet applied for any jobs, he said he was keen to return to the area of nuclear disarmament about which he was passionate. This had been a personal decision and was not connected to his no longer having a ministerial portfolio.

Mr Murphy said he had known that he would no longer be minister for housing going into the last election. As Minister for Housing, he had frequently been heckled, he said and while criticism was fair but he had not liked the personal abuse, he said. It had been tough to see the people around him get abused too, including a previous girlfriend who had faced “horrendous abuse”, he said.

He and Eoin Ó Broin had frequently clashed in the Dáil over policy, but they had also agreed on many things. It was important that politicians could disagree without falling into tribalism.

Mr Murphy denied that his housing plans had not been working, “we just needed more time to get it done.” He said Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien was doing a great job and bringing new ideas to the portfolio.

Mr Murphy said he had written to the Taoiseach Micheál Martin to tell him of his decision to resign and to tell him that he had his support.

Paschal Donohoe and Leo Varadkar were not just party colleagues, they were also friends and knew this had been a difficult decision for him. “We were in the trenches together.”

Mr Murphy said he had not been unhappy, he loved the job of being a TD, but he thought the time was right for him to leave and do something else.

He had spoken to constituency colleague, former TD Kate O’Connell “as a courtesy” to tell her of his decision. He declined to be drawn on who could replace him saying it would have to go to the party convention. But he expected the party to put up a strong candidate.

The byelection is likely to be a hotly contested battle, including high-profile candidates from Government parties.

Fine Gael unsuccessfully ran outgoing TD Kate O’Connell in last year’s general election, although she is known to be out of favour with the current party leadership.

Similarly, the Green Party chair Hazel Chu represented the Pembroke area on Dublin City Council, but has been at loggerheads with the party leadership in recent weeks over an unsanctioned and unsuccessful Seanad run.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan holds a seat in Dublin Bay South, alongside Jim O’Callaghan, and Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews.

‘Frontline politics’

“Leaving frontline politics is not something that I am doing without having considered the matter fully. In my late 20s, I worked in the UN system before I returned to Ireland to get involved alongside many other people looking to play their part in the national recovery at the time.

And now, after 12 years of service and having reflected upon things, I have made the decision to return to international affairs,” Mr Murphy wrote in his resignation letter.

“I have resigned my seat today, not to leave politics entirely, but to pursue a career in the area of international co-operation, human rights and democracy.

“I want to thank all who I have worked alongside in Fine Gael, in the Oireachtas, in various Government departments, in Dublin City Council and numerous other agencies and bodies who serve the Irish people so well.

“It has been an honour and I wish you all every success in the future.

“I finally want to thank all in my constituency who put their faith in me so many years ago and have stood by me ever since. I will be eternally grateful.”