Fine Gael’s Dara Murphy formally resigns as TD

Fianna Fáil accuses Taoiseach of error of judgement in backing former junior minister

Dara Murphy,  Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central: to resign and take up job in Brussesl. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Dara Murphy, Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central: to resign and take up job in Brussesl. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Dara Murphy, the Cork North Central TD who has been criticised for claiming Dáil attendance expenses while working in Brussels, has tendered his resignation to the Ceann Comhairle.

Mr Murphy is to take up a €150,000 year position in the European Commission, but remained as a TD in order to vote confidence in the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy in Tuesday night’s Dáil vote.

His resignation was announced in the Dáil on Wednesday morning.

Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher told TDs he had received Mr Murphy’s resignation letter at 10.45pm on Tuesday, with effect from that time.

“Last night, on Tuesday the 3rd of December, I met with the Acting Ceann Comhairle and gave him a letter informing him of my decision to resign my seat in Dáil Éireann,” he said in a statement.

“I also met the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night and spoke to him about my decision. I will commence a new position in the European Commission today.

“I will of course co-operate with any relevant statutory procedure that may be initiated.

“In addition, I would like to acknowledge and give thanks for the support I have received from so many people: the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael Party, at local and national level; my family; and most importantly I would like to thank the people of Cork North Central.”

In the Dáil later, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was accused of putting Fine Gael’s interests above public interest in allowing Mr Murphy to “abandon the people of Cork North-Central”.

‘Absentee TD’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Taoiseach of making a serious error of judgment .

Mr Martin said Mr Murphy had “effectively become an absentee TD while drawing his full salary” and reducing his work as a TD to “near zero”.

“The people are angry out there about this. They’re talking about it everywhere,” the Fianna Fáil leader said. “You approved this - you okayed it.”

Mr Murphy’s behaviour is “morally unsustainable” as he had “abandoned” the people of the northside of Cork city.

“You put party interest before public interest,” Mr Martin told the Taoiseach.

In reply, Mr Varadkar rounded on Mr Martin and said that he would not prejudice any investigation.

He said the Fianna Fáil leader did that two years ago when he criticised former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and forced her resignation when a subsequent inquiry cleared her.

“You are the one who showed an error of political judgement,” he told Mr Martin.

He also warned that Fianna Fáil should not be critical when it faced its own inquiries over voting irregularities.

Mr Varadkar repeated previous comments that Mr Murphy would cooperate with any inquiry by the Dáil Ethics Committee, the Standards in Public Office Commission or the clerk of the Dáil.

He defended the former minister and said he had attended the Dáil last year for 120 days and 40 of these were sitting days. He pointed out that many TDs, including Fianna Fáil frontbench members, had other jobs as well.

The Taoiseach also reiterated his comments in the Dáil on Tuesday that the standards commission should take over responsibility for expenses and Dáil attendances and that the current expenses regime was “too lax”.

Seldom seen

Mr Murphy was a junior minister under Enda Kenny but was fired by Leo Varadkar when he became Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach in 2017.

Mr Murphy was subsequently appointed to a full-time paid position as director of elections for the European People’s Party, the centre-right pan-European group to which Fine Gael is affiliated. He spent much of his time working in Brussels and around Europe but maintained his role as a TD, though he was seldom seen around Leinster House.

Recently he has been criticised for claiming attendance expenses, to which he was entitled as a TD once he had registered his attendance at Leinster House.

An investigation by The Irish Times revealed that Mr Murphy has been in Leinster House on 24 sitting days out of 70 in the first nine months of 2019, and 42 of the 104 sitting days during the whole of 2018. It is the lowest attendance record of all TDs by a considerable margin.

Mr Murphy has drawn his full TD’s salary of €94,500 plus parliamentary standard allowances totalling €51,600 per annum since taking up his job with the EPP in September 2017.

To receive the full travel and accommodation (TAA) portion of this allowance, worth €31,500 for a Cork-city based TD, Mr Murphy is required to clock in at Leinster House using an electronic fob on at least 120 days in a full year. He had done so on non-sitting days, often when returning from, or going to, other EU countries, usually on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Formal complaint

In a statement issued over the weekend, Mr Murphy said that TDs are entitled to have other roles and was fully compliant with all Dáil rules about salary and expenses.

But Fianna Fáil has made a formal complaint to the Oireachtas authorities about Mr Murphy.

The Committee on Members Interests, chaired by Hildegarde Naughton, was asked by Fianna Fáil to determine if Mr Murphy is in breach of codes of conducts set out in the Ethics in Public Office Act, and the Standard in Public Office Act. However, as he will no longer be a member following his resignation, that investigation will have to end.

He is understood to have been appointed as deputy head of Cabinet for the new Bulgarian member of the European Commission Mariya Gabriel, who is in charge of the innovation and youth portfolios in the new Commission, with a base salary of €150,000 per annum.

Commission rules require him to resign from national politics, but it is thought he delayed taking up the post to remain in the Dáil for last night’s vote, which the Government won by just three votes.