Taoiseach Enda Kenny has accepted responsibility for the appointment of Seanad byelection candidate John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) in order to boost his credentials.
The move has caused a political furore which has shaken Fine Gael.
In a clear climbdown last night, Mr Kenny made what amounted to an admission that the temporary appointment of Mr McNulty to Imma – he was a board member for only 13 days – should not have occurred and he undertook that it would never happen again. “I wouldn’t say it was my finest hour, and I take responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is.”
Mr Kenny said it was too late for Mr McNulty's name to be withdrawn: "The legal advice is that you cannot stop the process.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. "
Speaking in Roscommon last night during a Fine Gael canvass for the byelection there, he said: “I accept responsibility perhaps for not taking a closer view of how this evolved and what I can say to you is that it’s not going to happen again, believe me.”
"One thing that we are going to do in discussions with our Labour colleagues in Government is to put in place an absolutely transparent process where people appointed to boards can only be appointed on the basis of having applied through the public system."
The move was welcomed by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, who complimented Mr Kenny for his “honesty”.
Some Fine Gael TDs said privately it would help draw a line under a controversy that has dragged on for a week and left Mr Kenny exposed to claims of "cronyism" and "stroke-pulling". It came after two days in which he and Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys had consistently deflected all questions on the circumstances of Mr McNulty's appointment.
A senior party source said last night that the Taoiseach had “put his hands up” and it was a necessary gesture to allow the party move on from the events, which had caused turmoil within the party.
Mr McNulty was appointed to Imma on September 12th, days before the candidate verification process for the Seanad was completed.
The Opposition, as well as several Government TDs, contended the appointment was designed solely to give the Donegal businessman sufficient qualifications to stand in the October 10th byelection to fill a vacancy on the Culture and Education Panel. He resigned from Imma on Thursday because its rules do not allow election candidates to be board members.
Earlier yesterday, senior Fine Gael Ministers Michael Noonan and Simon Coveney tried to tone down the continuing controversy while defending the Taoiseach. Mr Noonan said Fine Gael was a big party and acknowledged there were internal divisions. However, it did not prevent other TDs from berating the manner in which the party had handled the matter. Monaghan Fine Gael deputy Sean Conlan said the actions of Mr Kenny and Ms Humphreys had damaged Fine Gael.
The Irish Times contacted board members of Imma yesterday but none were prepared to comment.