Miriam Lord: Imma-culate selection not without sin

Whatever that sin might be, the Taoiseach remains remarkably unaware of what it is. But he has apologised nonetheless

Fine Gael’s Imma-culate selection was not conceived without trace of original sin.

Whatever that sin might be, the Taoiseach remains remarkably unaware of what it is. But he has apologised nonetheless.

Fine Gael plays fast and loose with the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in order to big up the credentials of a failed local politician it wants to install in the Upper House. Enda interviews John McNulty for the Seanad job. He's mightily impressed and signs his nomination papers.

On that nomination form, McNulty is proudly listed as a board member of Imma, having just been appointed by Heather Humphreys.

If this sudden elevation came as a shock to Enda, he didn’t let on. Perhaps the Taoiseach was so impressed at the speed with which the businessman’s installation had occurred that he didn’t smell the stink of stroke around it.

Yesterday, though, now that the stink had become unbearable for the main Government party, Enda recalled how, during their brief chat, the candidate “expressed a wish” to get on to the State board.

Anything “cultural” would be nice, because McNulty was hoping to get a leg-up on to the Seanad’s culture and education panel.

And that’s as far as the Taoiseach knows.

Then his brand new Minister for the Arts, Heather Humphreys, of her own free will, exercises her fledgling rights and immaturely gifts McNulty with Imma.

Enda stressed more than once to an incredulous Opposition that Heather appointed him “in her own right” as Minister “in respect of her examining the qualities of Mr McNulty, who is an innocent person in this regard completely”.

A number of days ago, the Taoiseach was also at pains to point out that Humphreys is also absolutely “innocent” in this regard.

‘Full responsibility’

Whereupon he apologised and accepted full responsibility for whatever it is he is supposed to have been responsible for, even though he hasn’t been able to throw any light on what wrong has been committed.

No. It was enough for a contrite Taoiseach to confess to the Dáil that he let his standards slip.

(He also left Humphreys twisting in the wind, McNulty without the seat he fully expected to win and unnamed “Fine Gael officials” with the blame.)

The Taoiseach first accepted “full responsibility” for Whatever It Is last Friday, changing his plea from innocent to guilty in the space of 24 hours.

This is not the same as telling an untruth on a Thursday and reversing engines the following day. Because nobody in Leinster House, particularly those entrusted with high office, tells a lie. The mere word is banned during parliamentary discourse.

All that matters is that Enda was “accepting responsibility” for a political wrongdoing.

Although as confessions go, this one is rather baffling, given that he is still unable to say what he is apologising for.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my finest hour,” he said back then, realising he had been rumbled.

So he came into the Dáil with his hands up. It was a strange apology, not least because he tried to make out that Friday’s admission was made “in my capacity as Uachtarán of the party that I lead”.

Assuming the captain’s role, taking a hit for the troops.

That didn’t wash across the floor. So in the end, Enda was forced to apologise in his capacity as Taoiseach too.

He was quite proud of himself for being so noble.

"I accepted responsibility, I think, probably one of the first to accept responsibility on this side of the House for two reasons . . . " he began in reply to Gerry Adams, who was taking great pleasure in Enda's discomfort.

The Opposition didn’t need to hear his two waffly reasons and gleefully supplied the one the most obvious one: “You got caught!”

Caught doing what?

Taking his eye off the ball, apparently. He hadn’t “followed through on the process” whereby Seanad candidates are selected. “I’m not happy with situation as it has evolved.”

Biggest achievement

There wasn’t one

Labour

Minister in the chamber when he performed this odd mea culpa.

Heather Humphreys was there though, looking even more shell-shocked – if that were possible – than on the day before the summer recess when she was appointed Minister for the Arts.

In the meantime, what has been her biggest achievement? Appointing two individuals to the board of Imma, one of them the aforementioned former candidate, John McNulty.

All her own work too.

Heather, it seems, had this epiphany. Of all the things that came across her desk in those heady first days in office, one thing screamed out at her: the creation of two new jobs on the Imma board where none was needed. And McNulty, begob, was the only man for it.

According to the Taoiseach, Fine Gael officials forwarded their candidate’s CV to her just before the close of nominations and Heather, entirely off her own bat, moved like greased lightning to snap up this adornment to the world of Irish modern art.

That’s all.

And now this man who runs a small business in Donegal and does great work with the GAA (although he failed to get a seat in the local elections) is being traduced in the media.

There’s nothing a Taoiseach likes more than indulging in a spot of moral outrage over the doing down of “a decent man” by media and opposition begrudgers.

Sadly, mused Enda, John McNulty has decided to withdraw from the race because of the controversy surrounding the appointment of a new senator to the Upper House. It doesn’t sit with Enda’s standards, nor does it sit with the candidate’s.

Happily, some good has come of this mess – it seems this is what the Taoiseach is apologising for, rather than the appropriation of a national cultural body by his party to further their own political advancement.

Yesterday, Minister Brendan Howlin announced that the appointment to State boards would now be fully, er, above board.

To this end, he is setting up a website for future appointments called “stateboards.ie”. Ministers, however, will still have the final veto and still be able to make certain appointments.

There should be a website for that situation too, but the name is already taken. That would be “donedeals.ie”.

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