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Taoiseach backs away from admission on McNulty appointment

Story by Damian McCarney

Wednesday, 24th February, 2016 8:01am

Taoiseach backs away from admission on McNulty appointment

Damian McCarney

The Taoiseach has reportedly attempted to track back from his surprise admission in last night's final leaders' debate that it was he who made John McNulty's appointment to the board of IMMA.

In Tuesday night's debate on Prime Time, Enda Kenny said that it was he who had made the appointment of Mr McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. However The Irish Times reported last night reported that after the debate Mr Kenny retracted his admission. 

There were no quotes the Times brief online article, but it reported: "[after the debate] Mr Kenny said it was a Ministerial appointment made by Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys. He said it was not his finest hour and he took full responsibility for it."

In a section of the debate which RTÉ devoted to "cronyism", host Miriam O'Callaghan had put it to Enda Kenny that the appointment of Mr McNulty to the board had been "one of the most embarassing crony examples".

"You appointed him onto a board, IMMA, to get him onto a bigger board, the Seanad. You out-Bertied Bertie."

The Taoiseach insisted, "It's all changed", and proceeded to outline how new appointments must be made through a Central Appointments Service. 

Ms O'Callaghan however returned to Mr McNulty's appointment, describing it as "naked cronyism".

She paraphrased Enda Kenny's apology at the time saying he let his own standards and integrity down.

"What did you mean by that?" probed Ms O'Callaghan. "What did you do?"

The flustered Taoiseach replied: "What I did was make an appointment that did not need to be made, and I've changed the rules since then."

After the Taoiseach explained the four ways in which his governement had led a "democratic revolution", Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams interupted telling Miriam O'Callaghan that she had "a scoop".

"This is the first time that the Taoiseach has admitted he appointed John McNulty," said the Louth deputy. "He never admitted under questioning in the Dáil and elsewhere that he made that appointment." 

In September 2014, the then newly appointed Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys was embroiled in a long running controversy after she announced the appointment of John McNulty to the board of IMMA. It later emerged that the Donegal man hadn't applied for the post. The move had initially bolstered his chances of being elected to the Seanad in a by-election.

The Fine Gael man was given the unpaid role six days before his application to run for the seat on the Seanad's cultural panel. He resigned from the board shortly after the debacle emerged having never attended any of its meetings. He subsequently narrowly lost out in the by-election.

Minister Humphreys came under fire for weeks, but claimed that she made the appointment on merit and stood over the decision.

However Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the time made this ambiguous apology:

“Well Mr McNulty is an innocent person in this. I wouldn’t say it was my finest hour. I take responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is.”

The timing of the Taoiseach resurrection of the controversy in the leaders' debate comes in the same week that Mrs Humphreys and her party colleague Joe O'Reilly try to reclaim two seats for Fine Gael in the four seat Cavan-Monaghan constituency.

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