A Fine Gael local election candidate who was previously convicted after embezzling £63,000 from the public health service in the 1990s, is now running for a seat on Kildare County Council.
Tom Dempsey, a former priest and publican, is standing as a candidate for Fine Gael in Newbridge, Co Kildare.
He pleaded guilty to fraud in 1994, on charges related to £5,000 he defrauded from the Eastern Health Board, which was a sample charge of a wider sum of £63,000 that had been embezzled.
Dempsey was 31 years of age at the time, and later moved to England where he lived for several years, before returning to Ireland in recent years.
The 56-year-old candidate’s election campaign was launched by Maireád McGuinness, a prominent party figure, on course to be re-elected as an MEP for Midlands North West.
Dempsey's campaign social-media pages feature numerous pictures of himself and Ms McGuinness at events, as well as a photo of him together with Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.
Prior to working for the Eastern Health Board, Dempsey served as a priest up until the age of 28, and practised in both Newbridge and Naas for brief periods.
In a testimonial on the candidate's website, Fine Gael TD for Kildare South Martin Heydon described Dempsey as a "candidate who is enthusiastic and hard working".
In a recent Facebook post, Dempsey paid tribute to Ms McGuinness, who he said had been “highly supportive over the last few weeks”.
Press clippings from the 1994 court hearing labelled Dempsey a “Robin Hood” figure, as money he defrauded from the health service, by making up fictitious case files as a community welfare officer, was allegedly given to people in need. However the court heard he also kept some of the embezzled funds himself, according to archived media reports of the trial.
The charges related to Dempsey's time working in a health centre in Inchicore, Dublin 8, and the judge gave him a suspended sentence over the charges.
Dempsey was appointed as a FG local area representative for Newbridge in November 2017. He is one of three Fine Gael candidates running for election in the Newbridge ward.
On his campaign website, Dempsey is described as “a teacher, fundraiser, youth worker, film director and business owner”, who has “always worked in the best interests of the community”.
The candidate was also a publican in both Ireland and England. In 2012 he was elected as a Conservative Party member of Tandridge local council, which is located outside of London.
In a statement to The Irish Times, Dempsey said his role for the health service including making discretionary payments, to people who were often “enduring great hardship”.
Some time after he left the position he was contacted by the EHB over payments officials felt were inappropriate, and he accepted that position, he said.
“I want to make it clear I did not benefit personally from any of the payments I made,” Dempsey said. Following the court case his legal team agreed a repayment plan, and he “paid back everything that was asked”, he said.
“I deeply regret my actions at the time, but felt that I was doing everything I could to relieve people of great hardship. I have atoned and made a fresh start,” he said.
In a statement, Fine Gael said the events in question took place more than 25 years ago, and Dempsey was “an upstanding party member in Newbridge, who is well known and respected in the area”.