Taoiseach Leo Varadkar calling Dara Murphy’s European nixxer his ‘main job’ betrays a breath-taking contempt for the people who pay their wages, says Donal O’Keeffe.

So. Farewell then, Dara Murphy, absentee TD for Cork North Central.

Murphy, who for the past two years has been based in Brussels working as campaign manager for the European People’s Party (EPP), the centre-right grouping Fine Gael runs with, is expected to announce his resignation as a TD to take up a position as deputy head of cabinet for EU commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

Dara Murphy was elected TD for Cork North Central in 2011 and was re-elected in 2016. To the best of my knowledge the job of Teachta Dála is a full-time position.

The last time Murphy spoke in the Dáil was on December 7, 2017. He addressed a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Petitions Committee in October 2018, and he put down five written parliamentary questions in 2019. (In contrast, each of his constituency colleagues asked over 200.)

Murphy’s Dáil attendance record hasn’t stopped him claiming his full parliamentary standard allowances of €51,600, topping up his €94,500 TD’s salary. In order to qualify for those allowances, Murphy electronically registered his presence in Leinster House on 120 days.

The Irish Times reports that Murphy last year attended Leinster House on 42 out of 104 sitting days, making up the balance by fobbing in on non-sitting days, most of them Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays, coinciding, seemingly, with his flying to, or returning from, other EU states, on days he tweeted from those states.

Imagine having a job where you only have to clock in, and not out, at any time day or night, to qualify for un-vouched expenses.

The last time most of us heard of Dara Murphy was four years ago, when the Irish Examiner got the scoop that Murphy’s car had broken down between Fermoy and Mitchelstown at 3am one Sunday morning and the then junior minister had got a Garda car to drive him to Dublin Airport.

Murphy explained that he couldn’t get a taxi from Fermoy and – presumably – the poor man hadn’t one friend or family member he could call.

I understand that the fallout from that went all the way from the Garda Superintendent in Fermoy to then Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, to then Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to a deeply unhappy then Taoiseach Enda Kenny fielding awkward questions outside the United Nations in New York. Murphy later gave a non-apology apology ‘if’ it was felt this was a misuse of Garda resources.

Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said of Murphy’s non-presence in the Dáil: “He’s been very busy over the past two years. Not just as a TD representing his constituency locally, he has been present for key votes. But his main job has been a European job in the past two years, and he’s done that extremely well.”

That’s an interesting take, Taoiseach, but I do know that many in Fine Gael in Cork are seething that Murphy couldn’t be bothered to resign before last Friday’s Cork North Central by-election. Had Murphy resigned in time for Friday to have been a two-fer, there is a strong belief in Fine Gael that Senator Colm Burke would have held the seat for Fine Gael.

Regardless of Leo Varadkar’s nonsense about Dara Murphy’s EPP sideline being his ‘main job’, most people would agree that being a TD is an important job. But if it is, then the people of Cork North Central have been under-represented for two years, while Dara Murphy was busy elsewhere.

Being a TD is a very well-paid job, but – and I know this is a controversial opinion – I think most TDs give their constituents value for money. I couldn’t do what they do, and probably you couldn’t either.

They act as counsellors, social workers and legal advisors. They’re up at sparrow-fart and still going at closing time. They attend every funeral, social gathering and sporting event. They’re stuck in everything and if they weren’t, the TD from the other party would be, and so would three county councillors with their eye on a Dáil seat. And most TDs – out of their ridiculously high salaries – employ at least one, and often two constituency assistants.

You can argue that TDs should be doing better and more important work as legislators, and you’d be right, of course, but good luck to the TD who takes a high-minded approach to the work of a parliamentarian and neglects the parish pump.

Over in the UK, the average citizen (sorry, ‘subject’) has almost zero chance of talking with their MP. Our TDs advertise their mobile numbers.

I think we all recognise the folly of a national parliament where every member is an overpaid county councillor, but still we all like the system exactly as it is.

It has yet to be revealed how much Dara’s EPP nice little earner is paying, but a senior Fianna Fáil source told me that because Murphy’s foxer is not yet full-time (in the strictest sense), it is not likely to be in the six figures. Mind you, anything up to €99,999 wouldn’t be in the six figures, but until such time as we’re told, we don’t know. It’s fair to say it won’t be small, and it’s on top of the money he gets from us.

Still, as Pee Flynn told the late Gay Byrne, you try it sometime. It ain’t easy, apparently.

Regardless of what Dara Murphy is getting from the European Blueshirt Party, the Irish taxpayer is giving him – un-vouched expenses included – €146,100 a year. That works out at an eyewatering €2,810 a week. That Leo Varadkar can say that being a TD is not Murphy’s ‘main job’ betrays a breath-taking contempt for the people paying their wages.

On Saturday, Murphy struck a defiant note, saying he had fully complied with Leinster House rules. There’s presumably no rule about showing any respect for the office you hold or the people who elect you to it.

I called into Cork Penny Dinners this week. Cork Penny Dinners is in Cork North Central. When Fine Gael came to power in 2011, the charity was serving about 100 meals a week, mainly to men who might be considered ‘fond of a pint’.

Nowadays Cork Penny Dinners supplies 2,000 meals a week and rising, mostly to families, some of them working families, living in desperate poverty.

Imagine the difference Dara Murphy’s €2,810 a week might make to those families.