Kenny tries to repair damage from extraordinary controversy
Analysis: Mc Nulty remains in limbo and will remain on ballot is not asking for votes
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said Fine Gael officials had sent John McNulty’s curriculum vitae to Minister for Arts Heather Humprheys and she had properly appointed him. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
It is not just the previous government that now has a reason to recall September 30th.
Six years ago the then government signed the bank guarantee deal that will live long in infamy.
The current incumbents chose today to try and reverse out of a couple of poorly thought through decisions which have reopened old debates about cronyism at a time when the Coalition is desperate to harvest kudos for the strengthening economy.
Until this afternoon the only choice the Government seemed to have on the John McNulty affair was to batten down the hatches and weather the storm.
The sluice gates had opened and things could not just be undone.
For one, the confirmation of the three candidates in the race was completed last Monday week. Under the legislation dating from the late 1940s, the Seanad byelection was now on an inexorable course.
The controversy continued to rumble and as reported in today’s Irish Times, had widened out into a wider debate about political patronage and cronyism.
It was sure that Enda Kenny would this afternoon face one of his most uncomfortable Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil since becoming Taoiseach three and a half years ago.
Instead, in a dramatic and unexpected development, the Government has pulled the plug and McNulty was withdrawn as a candidate. Around an hour later Hilary Quinlan resigned from the board of the semi-State company Irish Water.
It’s a strange limbo-like situation whereby McNulty’s name will remain as a candidate, yet he and the Government are asking the Oireachtas not to vote for him.
It led to moments of high drama in the Dáil, as Enda Kenny essentially scuttled the armada before the opposition could mount its attack.
The Government hopes that this drastic move will help draw a line under the affair. It’s an extraordinary - and unexpected - development and amounts to what can only be considered as a humiliating and embarrassing climb-down for Fine Gael and for Kenny.
We learned a few more details about how McNulty’s became a board member of Imma but there are still many unanswered questions. Kenny said that Fine Gael officials had sent McNulty’s curriculum vitae to Minister for Arts Heather Humprheys and she had properly appointed him.
But the date the CV was sent - September 17th - suggests there was only one thing on the minds of those senior officials, to boost McNulty’s credentials for the Seanad.
Kenny accepts personal responsibility for an episode that he accepts was “beneath the standards” expected of Fine Gael. He said that in those circumstances the seat should not be expected.
It is clear from his language in the Dáil this afternoon that it was he who made the decision that McNulty’s name be withdrawn and the candidate accepted that decision. In other words, Kenny and not McNulty was the person who decided to bring it to an end.
Was pressure brought to bear by Labour? From the start the party has adopted a Pontius Pilate stance on this and said it is a problem of Fine Gael’s own making. Mixing our Biblical metaphors here, senior party sources insisted this afternoon they did not demand a “head on a plate” and maintained the decision was for Fine Gael alone.
There are two other candidates; Independent Gerard Craughwell (a former president of the TUI) as well as Sinn Fein’s Catherine Seeley. It is likely that Craughwell will now become the 60th member of the Seanad and his election will place an already parlous government advantage in the Upper House in serious jeopardy.
Is this the end of it? Fine Gael is likely to continue to face awkward questions about the specifics - particularly about the identity of the person who told Humphreys to appoint McNulty to Imma.
It will also refocus attention on all State appointments made by the Coalition to see if there are blatant examples of favouritism or patronage.
In the short-term, it might even outshine tomorrow’s Exchequer figures which are predicted to be very good indeed.
In the league table of political own goals, this is premier division stuff.