TD calls for ‘zero tolerance’ in Fine Gael for attacks on minorities

Taoiseach attempts to close off byelection row sparked by Verona Murphy comments

Leo Varadkar: ‘The case I always make is that we are in favour of migration.’

Leo Varadkar: ‘The case I always make is that we are in favour of migration.’

 

Fine Gael TDs have voiced their opposition to intolerance or hostility towards immigrants at the weekly meeting of the parliamentary party.

Amid growing unease in the party about views expressed by Wexford byelection Verona Murphy, Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd said he would not share the parliamentary party room with any TD who had intolerant views about immigration, sources said.

He was supported by a number of his colleagues, including Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan.

Although he did not mention her by name, most present believed that Mr O’Dowd was referring to Ms Murphy, who has been beset by controversy over comments she has made about immigrants and other issues.

Mr O’Dowd said that Fine Gael should have zero tolerance for people who attack immigrants, Travellers, the homeless and other vulnerable minorities, sources said. Looking after weaker people in society is a core value for Fine Gael, he added.

Ms Murphy appeared at an event in Wexford with Tánaiste Simon Coveney on Wednesday but she avoided the media. Party sources said she would concentrate on getting her campaign back on track now, but TDs are privately furious at her, and many are horrified at the views she expressed.

‘Tread very carefully’

Speaking in Zagreb, Croatia, where he is attending a meeting of the European People’s Party, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged that politicians needed to “tread very carefully” when talking about migration.

He said the furore over Ms Murphy’s comments on migrants was a learning experience for her and all politicians. However, Mr Varadkar repeated his confidence in the Fine Gael candidate in the November 29th Wexford byelection despite her repeating comments that linked migration into Ireland with the Islamic State terrorist group.

Speaking to the media as he arrived for the annual congress of the EPP, Mr Varadkar said Ms Murphy had apologised twice and withdrawn her remarks in full.

“That is good enough for me. It is up to the people in Wexford next week to decide if it is good enough for them,” he said.

He drew a comparison between the controversy and one last week when the Fianna Fáil candidate in Dublin Fingal, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, had to apologise for tweets she posted several years ago that were offensive to Travellers.

He denied his criticism of Ms Murphy was mild in comparison to that directed at Ms Clifford-Lee’s tweets last week. The Taoiseach described those as racist, misogynistic and body-shaming.

“I think what I said about [Ms Murphy’s] remarks and what Mr Flanagan and the Tánaiste have said has been very critical,” he said.

Populism

Asked about the challenges of formulating immigration policies without straying into populism, or deploying the race card, he replied: “It is a sensitive area and it is a sensitive issue; and politicians need to tread carefully in what they say. At the same time we need to acknowledge that it is an issue that the public talk about and therefore politicians have to talk about it too.”

The Taoiseach added that “the case I always make is that we are in favour of migration, the one that says that migration has made our economy stronger. We rely on a lot of migrants to run our public services. They would not run without them, in particular in the health service.

“There is a difference between legal migration – which I support – and illegal migration, which any good government has to try and stop. We all need to be very cautious in what language we use and this has been a learning experience not only for Verona Murphy but anyone involved in politics.”

The European People’s Party (EPP) is the centre-right bloc in European politics and remains the largest grouping in the European parliament. Its most prominent politician is German chancellor Angela Merkel. At the conference in Zagreb, the outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk was officially elected as the new EPP president. The Taoiseach welcomed the decision, saying the veteran Polish politician had proved to be a great friend of Ireland during the Brexit process.

The EPP has also suspended Fidesz, the Hungarian ruling party led by prime minister Viktor Orban, over its stances on the rule of law, suspension of courts and press freedom. No decision is expected during the two-day congress on whether to permanently exclude Mr Orban and his party.

“We suspended Fidesz and that is a demonstration that we will not have parties in the EPP that don’t adhere to European values,” said Mr Varadkar. Hinting he might be in favour of more permanent action, he added: “Its long-term position is under review, but certainly Fidesz has not apologised or withdrawn any of their actions.