A former priest who was convicted of embezzling $70k (£63) from the public health service in the 1990s is running for a seat on Kildare County Council.

Tom Dempsey, a Fine Gael candidate in Newbridge, pleaded guilty to fraud in 1994, on charges relating to £5,000 he defrauded from the Eastern Health Board. This was “a sample charge of a wider sum of £63,000 that had been embezzled,” The Irish Times reports.

After he left the priesthood at the age of 28, he was employed by the Eastern Health Board as a Community Welfare Officer in the early 1990s, the Leinster Leader reports.

Dempsey said in a statement: “As part of my work, I was in a position to make discretionary payments to members of the public, in exceptional circumstances; these people were frequently enduring great hardship, and I formed the view that they were entitled to the assistance I could offer. All discretionary payments were subsequently approved in writing by my supervisor.

“I resigned my position following an attempted petrol bomb attack at my place of work.

“Some time after I had resigned, the EHB contacted me, and put it to me that some of the payments I had made were inappropriate. I accepted their position, and signed a statement, regrettably before getting legal advice - and consequently, pleaded guilty when the matter came to court.

“I want to make it clear I did not benefit personally from any of the payments I made.

“Following the court case, my legal team agreed the terms of repayment, and I paid back everything that was asked of me, from my own resources and through additional borrowings.

“I deeply regret my actions at the time, but felt that I was doing everything I could, to relieve people of great hardship.

“I have atoned and made a fresh start.

We're just one week away from the 2019 Local Elections! 👀

I’m looking forward to seeing as many of you over the next few days as we come closer to May 24th, where I hope you will consider me as your number one vote! 👍🏻#VoteForTom #ForwardTogether #LocalElections2019 #FineGael pic.twitter.com/v1QGpCJT35

— Tom Dempsey - Fine Gael (@TomDempseyFG) May 16, 2019

“People in Newbridge know me well, and I trust they will have confidence in my ability to represent them; I want to give something back to the people of Newbridge, and I feel I am well equipped to represent their interests on Kildare County Council.”

Dempsey, who was 31 years old at the time of the charge, later moved to England for several years, before recently returning to Ireland.

In 2012, Dempsey was elected as a Conservative Party member of Tandridge local council, outside of London.

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In November 2017, Dempsey was appointed as a FG local area representative for Newbridge. According to the Irish Times, the 56-year-old is one of three Fine Gael candidates running for election in the Newbridge ward.

His election campaign was launched by Maireád McGuinness, who is on course to be re-elected as an MEP for Midlands North West.

Fine Gael said in a statement “the events referred to happened over 25 years ago. As Mr Dempsey has stated, he fully accepted his wrongdoing and repaid the monies. Fine Gael believes Mr Dempsey is an upstanding party member in Newbridge, who is well known and respected in the area.”

Fine Gael local candidate Tom Dempsey. Twitter profile photo.Twitter/@TomDempseyFG