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I FEEL SO SAD FOR POOR NIAMH, BUT IT REALLY SHOULD BE ME WHO IS GOING!; MISS IRELAND RUNNER-UP MICHELLE JOINS BATTLE OF BEAUTIES.

Miss Ireland runner-up Michelle Murphy last night waded in to the row over who represents the country in the Miss Universe Contest.

"I feel sorry for Niamh Redmond that she's been passed over," she said. "But, if she's not going, why am I not being sent?"

Contest boss, Limerick businessman Kieran Murray has told Miss Limerick, Fiona Mullaly - who finished third in the Miss Ireland pageant last year - that he has picked her to attend next month's contest in Miami.

But Belfast student Michelle said: "That's not fair. In international sporting events if a country's top athlete breaks a leg then the athlete placed second is automatically sent in their place.

"It should be the same with Miss Ireland. I'm angry that I've apparently been overlooked."

Like Niamh, she finds it hard to tie down the elusive Mr Murray, who took over the Miss Ireland franchise five months ago.

"It's so embarrassing," she said. I've been left completely in the dark. I've had no contact from his office. All I know is what I read in the papers."

Michelle, who holds the title Miss Antrim, admitted hoping she'd be selected for the contest when she heard Niamh wouldn't be making the trip to Florida.

"I'd like Kieran Murray to explain why he's sending Fiona Mullaly instead of me. I can't even begin to think how poor Niamh must feel.

"He has let everything get out of hand. The whole affair has been very shoddily handled at the last minute."

But a delighted Fiona refuted her criticism. She says she was told last December that she'd been selected to enter for the Miss Universe title.

"I heard before Christmas that I'd been chosen to go to Miami," she said last night.

"It was a big surprise. But I heard no more until two days ago and wasn't really expecting to go.

"I signed the contract yesterday. It's an amazing opportunity.

"Of course I can understand how Niamh is feeling. If I were in her position I'd be feeling just as upset. But it has nothing to do with me."

"None of the things that have happened over the last few days have anything to do with me.

"The competition rules say I can go. The Miss Ireland contract says anyone in the top three can be entered for the Miss Universe and Miss Europe contests."

Fiona, who flies out to Miami on May 1 to prepare for the pageant two weeks later, added: "I wish Niamh all the best. She's an intelligent and beautiful girl and I'm sure she'll have no more problems with her career."

Niamh, 19, who postponed an economics course at Maynooth College to leave herself free to go to Florida, is determined she won't.

The Drimnagh model said yesterday: "All this has helped me put my life in perspective. I'm sitting my final exams shortly. They're what's really important. I can't let this upset my studying. I want to get my degree in communications."

But she can't figure out why Mr Murray let four months pass without telling her she'd been dumped.

She hasn't seen the contest boss since he took over running Miss Ireland last November.

He broke the shattering news to her in a phone call last week.

"I'm still waiting for an explanation," she said. "But I'm still Miss Ireland and I know I've done nothing wrong. "

"I thought the only way I could be dropped was if I brought the Miss Ireland title into disrepute.

"But apparently Mr Murray is within his rights to change his mind if he feels like it. And apparently he's not obliged to give me his reasons.

"Of course I'm disappointed not to be going. I'd hoped to meet some of the friends I made in India. But I have to live with it and get on with my life."

Her dad Ron Redmond, who accompanied Niamh and her mum Orla to the Miss World pageant in Bangalore, India last November, is furious at the way his daughter has been treated.

"It's the first time I have seen Niamh crying since she was a little girl," he said. "Mr Murray's behaviour disgusts me.

"I've sent him faxes asking him to spell out Niamh's position. But he hasn't even had the courtesy to reply."

And, despite intense media interest, Murray, brother of Radio 2 FM disc-jockey Lorcan Murray, has refused to clarify why he chose Fiona.
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Author:Taylor, Richie
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 12, 1997
Words:737
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