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CAMHS and a candidate's controversial remarks: Here's the lowdown on the Wexford by-election

The contest is for the seat vacated by Mick Wallace.

AHEAD OF THE four by-elections taking place at the end of the month, we’re profiling each of the constituencies. 

The by-elections are taking place on 29 November, in order to replace TDs who were elected to the European Parliament in May.

Today, we’re focusing on Wexford where candidates are fighting it out to replace Mick Wallace, a former Independents 4 Change TD.

The constituency takes in the entire county of Wexford and since Wallace’s departure it has two Fine Gael TDs and one TD each from Fianna Fáil and Labour.

Who are the current TDs?

The following TDs were elected to the constituency in the 2016 general election:

  • Brendan Howlin (Labour) – elected after count nine 
  • James Browne (Fianna Fáil) – elected after count 10
  • Michael D’Arcy (Fine Gael) – elected after count 14
  • Paul Kehoe (Fine Gael) – elected after count 14
  • (Independent Mick Wallace, now an MEP, was elected after count 13)

Who’s running?

In alphabetical order:

Cinnamon Blackmore (Solidarity PBP): Blackmore is an activist who has been involved in political campaigns for more than a decade. She has campaigned for improving mental health services in Wexford and was involved in the Gorey branch of Together for Yes during the 2018 abortion referendum.

Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fáil): One of the favourites to win the seat, Byrne was eliminated on the 12th count in 2016 after racking up more than 6,000 first preference votes. Byrne has been a member of Wexford County Council since 2009 and is Head of Communications for the Higher Education Authority.

Jim Codd (Aontú): Bridgetown native Codd became one of Aontú’s six elected representatives when he won a seat on Wexford County Council earlier this year. The secondary school teacher has listed mental health services and rural regeneration among his top priorities.

Karin Dubsky (Green Party): Dubsky is a long-term environmental activist who joined the Green Party in recent weeks. She is the coordinator of Coastwatch Europe, a voluntary organisation that monitors coastal and wetland environments in several European countries. She works in Trinity College Dublin as a marine ecologist.

Charlie Keddy (Independent): Frequent electioneer Keddy is perhaps best known for running in all five of Wicklow’s county council electoral areas for around two decades. The strategy has yet to be successful for the plumber from Kilcoole. He is against abortion and tax on homes and water and supports free healthcare.

George Lawlor (Labour Party): Wexford town native Lawlor has been a councillor since 2009 and was elected Mayor in 2013. He works as a parliamentary assistant to Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin.

Verona Murphy (Fine Gael): Murphy is Managing Director of a transport company and President of the Road Haulage Association. She cites improving infrastructure and the regeneration of Rosslare Europort among her top priorities. In recent days she faced criticism for comments about asylum seekers and subsequently issued an apology

Johnny Mythen (Sinn Féin): Enniscorthy native Mythen came within 33 votes of winning a seat in 2016, eventually losing out on the 14th count. However the veteran local politician subsequently suffered a shock defeat earlier this year when he lost his council seat.

Melissa O’Neill (Irish Freedom): A former Sinn Féin councillor in Kilkenny, O’Neill was expelled from the party following an incident with neighbours. She lost her seat in the last local election. During that campaign she took the unusual step of concurrently running for a seat on Waterford council but failed to get elected there too. She is running for the Irish Freedom Party, also known as Irexit, whose priorities include limiting immigration and leaving the European Union.

What are the main issues?

Housing, rural transport, immigration and school places are all prominent campaign talking points, with mental health services also proving to be a key issue.

Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) have long been under severe strain in Wexford, prompting several public rallies against the lack of provision.

Child Psychiatric Consultant Dr Kieran Moore resigned from his post in Wexford last year saying that conditions within the service in the county were “completely unfit for purpose”. 

The public demonstrations have been organised by the Wexford Mental Health Warriors activist group which says that very little has changed since Dr Moore’s resignation. The group plans to hold another protest in the run up to the election.

Increasing concerns about climate change and the presence of Dubsky in the race are also bringing environmental issues to the fore.

Anything of note happened on the trail so far?

The campaign in Wexford was something of a slow burn in comparison to other by-elections, however it shot to prominence in recent days when Fine Gael candidate Verona Murphy said asylum seekers coming to Ireland have to be “deprogrammed” as they may have been “infiltrated by ISIS”.

Murphy made the controversial remarks on RTÉ’s This Week programme.

“There people are coming from such war-torn countries that they have to be deprogrammed, for the want of a better word, but through support services,” she said.

They carry angst that you wouldn’t ordinarily see, possibly infiltrated by ISIS, and we have to protect ourselves against that.

“There are support services available, but they have to be available as much as the accommodation. Do not house those people where those support services are not readily available.”

In a statement following the broadcast, Murphy apologised for the comments, describing them as a “poor choice of words”. 

“This was a very poor choice of words and I am very sorry to anyone who was offended by them,” she said. 

“People coming here fleeing persecution deserve to be treated with compassion and respect. They need to be given opportunities to forge a new start for themselves and their families.”

(Since the time of writing Verona Murphy has issued a second apology after further comments emerged). 

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