Leo Varadkar on Verona Murphy: "Quite frankly, I'm glad she didn't get elected"
"It was a mistake, and I accept responsibility for that mistake."
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is glad that former Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy didn't get elected and that selecting her was a mistake he accepts responsibility for.
Earlier this week, Murphy spoke to South East Radio after she was dropped from the Fine Gael ticket for the upcoming general election.
In an interview that covered a litany of subjects, Murphy said: "Do we have to wait to have a London Bridge incident on Wexford Bridge? Am I, as a person, not allowed to raise the security issue that these unrestricted migrants bring?"
Murphy was already in the spotlight following a controversial by-election campaign last month where her comments about migrants were heavily criticised. Murphy apologised after linking asylum seekers to ISIS and calling for them to be “deprogrammed”.
In an interview with a selection of journalists on Friday afternoon, including JOE's Head of Politics Ellen Coyne, the Taoiseach was asked about his former Fine Gael colleague.
Varadkar has been very critical of Murphy in recent days, having previously described her as "the most capable women to enter politics in recent times" when supporting her candidacy and canvassing with her ahead of a recent by-election in Wexford.
You can read the exchange between Varadkar and the gathered journalists about Verona Murphy below.
Taoiseach I just want to ask you about your former election candidate Verona Murphy, you were very critical of her in recent days. You put her forward, you backed her, you canvassed with her, so are you only turning on her now because she lost? Because if she did win you would have to support her?
And then secondly, just on Verona as well, during the campaign trail her director of elections directly intervened as Justice Minister and got her to visit a direct provision centre, so do you regret that now… in what was a PR stunt?
Leo Varadkar: I don’t accept it was a PR stunt, she visited a - I think it was a reception centre rather than a direct provision in Dungarvan - the old Clonea Strand Hotel, which I knew well from my youth, which is now a reception centre for refugees coming from, I think, mainly Syria but other parts of the world too.
And you know, it’s a place that anyone can visit - other TDs have, you can visit too if you wish to - and the idea there was to give her a better understanding of the real-life lived experiences of people who have to flee their own country and come to live in Ireland.
And clearly it didn’t work. But I don’t think it was inappropriate by any means, and I visited accommodation centres as well and reception centres and I found it eye opening but maybe others don’t.
In terms of Verona herself, quite frankly, I’m glad she didn’t get elected because what we have seen in her recent interviews is that she unfortunately does harbour these views towards migrants. You know, we heard the comment about Wexford Bridge and London Bridge - you know, that is raising the spectre that migration may result in terrorist attacks in Ireland, and that’s just not factual and is just really inflammatory I think, it really feeds into the kind of racist views and xenophobic views that unfortunately are harboured by a lot of people, or at least some people in our society.
And had she been elected, I think she would have been emboldened, I think we would’ve heard more of that, but it would have been coming from a TD and I think she wouldn’t have lasted long in Fine Gael for those reasons, because clearly these are views she holds and they are not views that are acceptable in the party that I lead, they are not in accordance with Fine Gael values.
This is a party that embraces legal migration, migrants strengthen our economy, run our public services, enrich our society. I’m proud that we have been able to naturalise and give citizenship to 120,000 people since we came to office. I’ve been at those citizenship ceremonies, most of our ministers have, and when you see the joy and the delight in the eyes and the hearts of people who have become Irish citizens, they are so proud to be Irish citizens and they really know what it means that they don’t take it for granted in any way how great it is to be an Irish citizen, and they are the faces of people who really represent migration in Ireland, not theoretical threats, and that’s all I have to say about that.
Do you regret selecting her?
Leo Varadkar: Yeah… it was a mistake, and I accept responsibility for that mistake. She is not somebody who was alien to me, you know, most of us in this room would have known her a bit in some way, in her role as Road Haulage Association president and in her role on Brexit issues in particular, a really impressive life story in terms of how she made somebody of herself and somebody who is very vocal and very outspoken and I thought she would be an addition to our party.
I never once heard her express anti-migrant views or racist views, I don’t think anyone else did or nobody else told me that they did, even though most of us in this room would have encountered her on many occasions. And once she did, it came as a surprise - a big surprise - and I have to take responsibility for that. But the truth is when you are captain of a team and I suppose a party leader is a captain of a team, you will find from time to time that people on your team let you down, and what do you do about it?
You do the one thing you can do, if they don’t change their ways you take them off the team. And I have had to take a number of people off the team in the last couple of weeks, people who will not be candidates for us in the general election when it comes.
I sincerely hope that other parties, particularly the main opposition party Fianna Fail, does something similar instead of accusing of us or the media of all sorts of conspiracies against them, they should act. And they should take people off the ticket who shouldn’t be on the ticket, or at least take some form of action.