Quinlan appointment should have set off alarm bells in Fine Gael circles

Coalition dogged by lack of political awareness in recent months

Hilary Quinlan resigned as a director of Irish Water  yesterday but will continue working as a private driver for Minister for State Paudie Coffey

Hilary Quinlan resigned as a director of Irish Water yesterday but will continue working as a private driver for Minister for State Paudie Coffey

 

The appointment of Hilary Quinlan as a driver for the Minister of State for the Environment while he was also a director of Irish Water, which comes under the Department of the Environment’s remit, suggests inept political instincts at the very least.

It speaks volumes for the lack of political awareness that seems to have permeated the Coalition, and Fine Gael in particular, in recent months.

Paudie Coffey, the Minister in question, said last night he knew of Mr Quinlan’s position on the board of Irish Water when he appointed him as one of his drivers.

Alarm bells should have gone off somewhere in Fine Gael circles – not least with Mr Coffey and Mr Quinlan – when the junior minister in the Department of the Environment had an Irish Water director ferrying him around.

An argument can be made that Mr Quinlan was capable of performing both roles separately, but that immediately runs up against the old justification for ministers having drivers in the first place: that the car is a second office, and ministers can use the time in the passenger seat to get work done.

It is entirely plausible that Mr Coffey could have been discussing Irish Water matters when sitting alongside Mr Quinlan, thus raising a question mark over how arm’s length the former councillor could be as a company director.

However, Mr Quinlan’s justification for holding both jobs really sealed his fate. While most people in politics privately know – but never publicly admit – that governments stuff boards, they would never say, as Mr Quinlan did, “You tell me one party . . . who doesn’t look after their own”.

Then asking why the focus wasn’t on the economy (“We were all nearly eating out of bins three years ago,” according to Mr Quinlan) also gives ammunition to those who claim Fine Gael cares little about standards as long as the recovery continues.