Enda Kenny’s feet of clay

 

The Reynolds Rule says it all. It’s the little things in politics that trip you up. In the scale of “strokes” or political fast ones, the McNulty affair was in truth small beer. An abuse of the system, deserving of criticism, certainly. But it’s easy to see how in the Taoiseach’s crowded agenda, ensuring the routine nomination and election of the right man in a Seanad by-election might not have concentrated the mind as much as, say, the looming budget. Easy to drop the ball in what was equivalent to no more than friendly match.

The fallout is another matter. And on an altogether different scale. The “appalling political judgment”, as our Political Editor, has described it, has dealt telling blows to the reputations and standings of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Government, the “reforming and different” Fine Gael, the entire political reform agenda, John McNulty’s political career (irretrievably?), and indeed the Seanad.

The Taoiseach, we know, does not hold in particularly high regard the Seanad, which he tried to abolish. And, like most of the political class, no matter what they may be saying at the moment, he takes the latter’s notional primary role as a forum for vocational representation with a pinch of salt. “Ah sure it’s just a useful waiting room for Dail wannabees or has-beens,” is the attitude he and others have had for a long time. He should perhaps have thought to revise his views, or at least his presentation of them, after the voters last year gave him a bloody nose on the issue.

Mr Kenny’s unstated position was, it would seem, articulated with rather more truth but undiplomatic forthrightness by Mr Hilary Quinlan, driver to junior minister Paudie Coffey. He dismissed concerns about his own appointment with the words “You tell me one party ... who [sic] doesn’t look after their own.” Indeed, Mr Quinlan, that, sadly, is the point.

The Taoiseach’s position and authority has been undermined not only with the public, but within his party, not least in the parliamentary party where dissidents grumble with renewed confidence. And, as another junior minister Simon Harris, admitted yesterday, the party also has “management issues” to confront. No mean agenda for Mr Kenny, from this one dropped ball.

The Government’s most significant response has been to bring forward overdue and welcome reforms of the system of appointments to public bodies, some 6,000 posts now currently in the gift of ministers. They will in future be advertised and candidates go through a shortlisting process involving the public appointments service before reaching ministers. It is a system which will not remove entirely the room for political patronage at the final discretionary stage, but which will represent a considerable advance. A consolation footnote to mark the publis service contrbution of ex-to-be-Senator McNulty . Though he is unlikely to see it like that.