Irish Republican News · September 27, 2014
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Kenny battles party dissent over cronyism


The 26-County Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been forced to apologise after appointing a Fine Gael insider to an arts board in order to boost his claim to a seat in the Irish Senate, ahead of three more qualified women candidates.

The appointment of failed local election candidate John McNulty to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) has been described by one Fine Gael colleague as ‘stroke politics at its worst’. Another Fine Gael TD, a critic of Mr Kenny, said: “People within Fine Gael are becoming disgusted with the way the party is being run.”

Mr McNulty’s nomination to the Seanad caused considerable surprise and anger within the party, as he was not on the shortlist provided by the party’s ruling body over the summer. Fine Gael’s national executive put forward Stephanie Regan, Samantha Long and Councillor Kate O’Connell. But Mr McNulty was “plucked from relative arts obscurity” to be appointed to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) two weeks ago.

And within days, his name emerged as the official government candidate for a seat in the Seanad on the ‘Cultural and Educational’ Panel, which requires some evidence of expertise and experience in the cultural field. An objection to his nomination dropped after it was revealed he was now a member of the board of the high-profile state-run art gallery.

The “shafting” of female candidates again highlighted an apparent ‘jobs for the boys’ agenda after the Taoiseach failed to nominate any female junior ministers in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.

It was another major embarrassment for the junior coalition party. Labour Party Seanad leader Ivana Bacik expressed “serious concerns” about the appointment and the “perception” it creates.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Dail the “stink of cronyism” surrounds the Seanad by-election.

“When the Government took office in 2011, it promised a departure from the stroke politics and cronyism which had permeated past Fianna Fail administrations,” she said.

“At the time, An Taoiseach went so far as to describe the election of this Government as a democratic revolution.”

Nevertheless, Ms McDonald said, Mr Kenny had clearly bought into the politics of the past with his handling of the Seanad by-election. Ms McDonald challenged Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton to say if she supported Mr Kenny in his actions and if her Labour colleagues would vote for Mr McNulty in the Seanad by-election.

“The nomination is a matter for the Fine Gael party, its leader and its members,” Ms Burton said. “It is not a matter for the Labour Party, but rather it is for Fine Gael.”

Up to 15 Fine Gael TDs are demanding an explanation from Mr Kenny on the appointment of Mr McNulty, with some deputies saying it reminded the public of “the way Fianna Fail did business”.

John Deasy said people within the party were “disgusted” with the way the party is being run. In a wide-ranging criticism of his party’s leadership, the Waterford backbench TD said some ministers are “not fit” for their positions.

Speaking to state-run RTE radio, the young TD said members of the party were asking for “some accountability” on the appointment process which was “clearly manipulated and abused”.

However he indicated that issues within the party were wider than the McNulty affair. “I think it probably indicative of what’s been going on for Fine Gael in some time. The calculation from the Taoiseach is he can pretty much do anything he wants right now.”

He also criticised the credentials for appointment to some very senior positions, which seemed to be “if you can grovel to the Taoiseach for long enough” and “if you can read a script”.

At a heated press conference at the Ploughing Championships, Kenny denied ordering the Arts Minister to appoint McNulty to a position.

“Obviously there are thousands of positions that are required to be filled occasionally and we have encouraged people to apply in a particular way for that,” he said. “But ministers are free to make nominations to particular boards.”

He said he personally interviewed Mr McNulty and found him to be a person “of energy, of quality”.

But late on Friday night, Kenny finally made what amounted to an admission of guilt on the matter.

“I wouldn’t say it was my finest hour, and I take responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is,” he said. He claimed it was too late for Mr McNulty’s name to be withdrawn. “The legal advice is that you cannot stop the process. Obviously Mr McNulty is an outstanding candidate and I think he will do very well in the Senate.”

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