TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said the fall-out from the Dara Murphy affair has hurt his party’s chances in Cork North-Central but said it would be “unjust” if Senator Colm Burke loses out as a result.
Mr Varadkar said he was still confident Mr Burke can take a seat despite the controversy that surrounded Dara Murphy's recent years as a Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central.
Mr Murphy was criticised for rarely being in the Dáil, as he focused on work for the European People's Party in Brussels.
He stepped down from his position in early December, clearing the way for Senator Colm Burke to become Fine Gael's biggest hope for a seat.
The Taoiseach said: “I’m confident that we will take a seat in Cork North Central you know, we’d over 20% of the vote in the by-election.
“Yeah, that’s not that long ago. And that’s more than a quota.
“But I do think the controversy around Dara Murphy has made things more difficult for Colm and also for Lorraine O’Neill [Fine Gael’s other candidate].
“And I think that’s really, really unfair in many ways because there’s actually nobody who is more diligent, hard-working, head down than Colm Burke. He really is a grafter,” he said.
Asked about Mr Burke’s poor record of election success as a possible factor, Mr Varadkar responded by saying: “I think this time might be his time.
“But it would be a real shame.
“I think if somebody who is a total grafter and so committed to, you know, the everyday work of politics, to individual queries to local issues, you know, was the one who ended up being damaged because of somebody else’s actions. That would be a real, real shame. It would be unjust actually,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has accepted that Fine Gael is lagging behind in the polls but said the General Election is “all to play for”.
The Fine Gael leader made the comments as the latest opinion poll show that Sinn Fein has moved ahead of his party and is tied in first place with Fianna Fáil.
According to the latest Sunday Business Post/Red C poll, Sinn Fein is sitting on 24%, up 3% on the previous survey last week.
The poll shows that Micheál Martin’s party is down two points to 24% while Fine Gael is down two points to 21%.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Varadkar said: “It’s looking like a very tight election.
“We’re a bit behind, but everything is within the margin of error of 3%, so this election is all to play for.
“One thing that won’t happen, you won’t see a coalition involving my party and Sinn Féin. That’s just not going to happen.
“Sinn Féin, in our view, is soft on crime and also high on tax — proposals to tax business, pensions, incomes, wealth, property, you name it, to the tune of four billion euros and that would be enormously damaging for the Irish economy, for people’s jobs and incomes and livelihoods and businesses.”