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Taoiseach 'has spoken to' under-fire FG candidate Verona Murphy about her comments on migrants

Murphy has made a number of controversial comments about refugees in the past number of days.

A screengrab from Verona Murphy's campaign video.
A screengrab from Verona Murphy's campaign video.
Image: Twitter

Updated Nov 19th 2019, 12:40 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he has spoken to Fine Gael by-election candidate Verona Murphy about comments she made about immigration and said her statements were “wrong, misinformed and ill-advised”.

Murphy has made a number of controversial comments about refugees in the past number of days. 

The Wexford candidate first apologised after linking asylum seekers to ISIS and calling for them to be “deprogrammed” on RTÉ’s This Week Programme on Sunday. 

The Irish Times then reported yesterday that Murphy made further comments linking migrants to the terrorist group while canvassing in Wexford last Friday.

Further comments have now been reported in today’s Wexford People in which Murphy said that Isis had “manipulated children as young as three or four”. 

After coming in for criticism, Murphy visited a migrant reception centre yesterday and released a statement afterwards saying it had a “profound impact” on her understanding of the issues facing asylum seekers.

“All they want is the chance to live safely and without fear. I understand that wish,” Murphy said after her visit to the centre at the Clonea Strand Hotel in Dungarvan.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said yesterday evening that Murphy gained “enormous insights” from her visit and that her previous statements were based on “false rumours and misinformation”.

Asked this morning about Murphy’s comments and whether he would continue campaigning for her, the Taoiseach said she was right to apologise. 

“Verona is a very outspoken and independent person, she’s not going to be the type of person who toes the party line. And I think on some occasions she’s got it absolutely wrong but she is the selected candidate and I will certainly be campaigning with her before polling day as I have done since,” Varadkar said.

“But just in relation to the comments that she has made the other day, you know I spoke to her about them yesterday, they were misinformed, they will ill-advised, they were wrong and she was right to apologise for them,” he added.

We have hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland who are migrants, they contribute to our economy, to our society, to our public services, a very small number come from Iraq and Syria and those who do are much more likely to be fleeing Isis than having anything to do with Isis. She understands that now, I think it’s right and appropriate that she did withdraw those comments and apologise for them. 

6513 British-Irish Council Summit_90585154 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Source: RollingNews.ie

The Taoiseach was questioned further on the matter during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil this afternoon. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith asked Varadkar how a by-election candidate was able to gain access to a direct provision centre, when she herself was refused access when she tried to visit previously. Smith also asked “how high” was the Taoiseach’s bar when it came to dealing with racism within his party. 

Varadkar reiterated his previous comments, stating: “What she said was very, very wrong”. He said her comments were “ill-advised” and “absolutely wrong and don’t reflect the position on my party”.

“As someone who probably knows more about experiencing racism than you do” Varadkar said that Smith might have been able to visit the direct provision centre had she called in advance.

He added that he had called Murphy to tell her that what she said “was not on”, and added that only a small number of migrants to Ireland are from Iraq and Syria. He said they’re fleeing Isis, not supporting it.

Smith said Varadkar should remove Murphy as an election candidate.

Migrants rights group Nasc has described Murphy’s comments as Islamophobic in nature and has criticised her visit to the reception centre yesterday.

Nasc CEO Fiona Finn says she felt “uncomfortable” by Murphy’s visit to the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre in Waterford and rejected the notion that the prospective TD experienced a kind of “road to Damascus moment”.

Speaking this morning on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, Finn said that the centre is used to house vulnerable people and not somewhere for someone to undergo a “dramatic change of heart”.

For us I feel very uncomfortable about her visiting the centre, somehow she has made a trip to an emergency reception and integration centre, a centre that is housed prominently by very vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers who have come in the main from Syria and then she has had this ‘road to Damascus moment’, where all of a sudden she realises that multiple comments she has made over the last number of days were incorrect.

In her statement yesterday, Murphy apologised for the remarks she made over the past few days. 

“I realise now I had a poor understanding of asylum issues and I apologise wholeheartedly for my remarks,” she said. 

Asked about Murphy’s apology her contention that she now understands the issues better, Finn said it has come too late.

In a further statement to TheJournal.ie, Finn added:

Refugees and asylum seekers should not be used as tools for re-education or rehabilitation. Their stories of persecution, trauma or loss are deeply personal and theirs to share if they wish, but they should never feel compelled to do so, especially in their own home.

Several opposition politicians have been critical of both Murphy and government’s response.

Speaking on the Today with Sean O’Rourke programme, Wexford TD and Labour leader Brendan Howlin criticised the minister’s statement supporting Murphy and her visit to the centre.

“Charlie is a decent man, but I think he has very seriously overstepped the mark and blurred, beyond blurred, and seriously confused his role as Director of Elections for a candidate in a by-election and his role as Minister for Justice, solemnly charged with protecting the most vulnerable groups of people we have in this country,” Howlin said.

Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly TD also told reporters outside Leinster House that the government was “pointing at immigrants”.

“I mean, this is the oldest trick in the book. The government has failed the people of Wexford on transport, they have failed the people of Wexford on housing, they have failed the people of Wexford on broadband, they have failed the people of Wexford on cost of living and then come a by-election, the government candidate starts pointing at immigrants,” he said.

Varadkar said Fine Gael “acted very quickly” on the matter.  

“When Fianna Fáil had an issue with their candidate last week, for the first few days there was no apology.  There was a suggestion that it was all part of a right-wing conspiracy and a smear campaign. We acted very differently. We acted immediately. I spoke to Verona.  

“Charlie Flanagan who’s director of elections spoke to her too. We explained to her that her comments were unacceptable, that they were misinformed and that she needed to develop a better understanding around the issues around asylum and immigration.  

“And she’s done that, and she’s apologised and retracted the remarks as a result.  So, I think we acted much more swiftly than Fianna Fáil did,” he said.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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