John McNulty withdraws from Seanad byelection race as Taoiseach says he let standards slip

Taoiseach says he let standards slip and it’s not worth winning a seat in such circumstances

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has confirmed Fine Gael’s Seanad byelection candidate John McNulty has effectively withdrawn from the race.

Mr Kenny told the Dáil this afternoon Mr McNulty had requested that Oireachtas members not vote for him in the byelection on October 10th.

“My own standards were let slip and my own sense of integrity and trust did not measure up’’ in the Seanad byelection controversy, the Taoiseach said.

He said he deemed Mr McNulty to be of “first class credentials, of good character, who would make an excellent representative’’.


Mr Kenny said he accepted responsibility for “taking my eye off the situation when I should have been more diligent about seeing it through’’.

Mr McNulty’s appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art ahead of his selection to contest the Cultural and Education Panel of the Seanad saw the Government accused of stroke politics.

Mr McNulty said today he was withdrawing from the byelection race as his participation in the contest would be a “distraction” from the work the Government is doing.

Last Friday, Mr Kenny admitted the temporary appointment to Imma of Mr McNulty - a board member for only 13 days before stepping down- should not have occurred and he undertook that it would never happen again.

The Taoiseach today said he accepted responsibility for the controversy what had happened was beneath the standard expected of him and of Fine Gael.

“This seat should not be accepted in those circumstances,” he told the Dáil.

Mr McNulty, who lives in Kilcar in Co Donegal and manages a shop, was listed as a member of the Imma board on the Seanad byelection ballot paper. The election cannot be stopped at this stage and Mr McNulty’s name cannot be withdrawn.

“I am taking this decision because I believe that to contest the election would be an ongoing distraction from the critical work of Government which is to secure Ireland’s recovery through job creation and increased investment,” Mr McNulty said in a statement. “I believe the Government’s economic plan is working and the country is now moving in the right direction. This is what all members of Government should be focussed on at all times.”

Mr McNulty said he had informed Mr Kenny he was withdrawing his name and said he would “like to thank the many members of the Oireachtas who already expressed their support for me”.

He added: “It was my hope, if elected, to support the Government’s work in this regard as a member of the Oireachtas and now it is my intention to seek a party nomination to contest the next General Election.”

Speaking on Highland Radio this evening, he said it was his own decision to draw back from the race and that he was not pushed.

Hs said he was “bitterly disappointed for the people in Donegal and people in the Oireachtas. I feel that it has gone too far and the national media are not just letting go”.

The vacancy in the Seanad arises following the election of Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune to the European Parliament in May.

Former Teacher’s Union of Ireland president Gerard Craughwell and Sinn Féin councillor Catherine Seeley are also contesting.

Members of the Dáil and Seanad are the only people entitled to vote in the byelection which means the Government, given it has a majority, could ultimately have selected a winner.

New rules introduced by the Government reduced the size of the boards of the State’s major museums and art galleries to nine members.

However, the appointment of Mr McNulty and of Sheila O’Regan from Limerick, brought the total number on Imma’s board to 11. No explanation has been given as to why the ceiling was breached.

Shortly before he spoke in the Dáil, Mr Kenny stated in an email to his party TDs, Senators and MEPS the Seanad controversy had “fallen short of the standards we have set for ourselves in Fine Gael”.

He said he was “very unhappy” the party’s executive council was not properly consulted about the selection process for the Seanad nomination.

In the email, Mr Kenny confirmed Mr McNulty had stated that he wished to withdraw from the current byelection and was asking Oireachtas members not to vote for him.

“I accepted John’s decision with deep regret. He is an excellent candidate, somebody I firmly believe is very well qualified to serve as a member of the Seanad,” Mr Kenny said.

He explained that on Friday he accepted responsibility for the situation in which Fine Gael officials brought Mr McNulty’s interest in serving on a State board to the attention of a Minister in circumstances in which he was also seeking party nomination for an election. “This should not have happened,“ Mr Kenny said.

Noting that Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys had subsequently appointed Mr McNulty to the board of Imma, he added:“I am absolutely satisfied that she did so based solely on his experience and ability.”

In a statement this evening, Ms Humphreys said she had made the decision to appoint him to the board “based on merit”.

She said she had been aware he was “among a large number of people interested in running” for the Seanad byelection, but she had “no role to play” in the selection of the Fine Gael byelection candidate.

“This is a completely separate process and it is a matter for Fine Gael,” she said.

“As a new Minister, I regret the controversy that has surrounded my first two board appointments. I have learned valuable lessons from this experience.”

Mr Kenny said he regretted that the incident had created a negative perception of the way in which State boards were appointed. The Government had made decisions this morning to improve the transparency of the process, he added. “I am very unhappy that the Fine Gael executive council were not properly consulted abut the process of selection in this case.“

He said the party would move to put in place inclusive election strategy structures chaired by Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald “at which the parliamentary party will be represented at every level“.

He said this structure would be responsible for candidate strategy from now on.

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll

Steven Carroll is an Assistant News Editor with The Irish Times

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times