Saturday 18 November 2017

Any way you spin this one - it's still a big blow for Enda

Enda Kenny has been left looking incompetent. Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Enda Kenny has been left looking incompetent. Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
John Downing

John Downing

Enda Kenny's biggest problem right now is that he looks incompetent. At first glance it was a simple enough job. One Senator, Deirdre Clune from Cork, won a seat in the European Parliament. So, he and his backroom team had to find a replacement and point them at the pre-ordained process that is a Seanad by-election.

The electorate is the TDs and Senators at Leinster House. The Taoiseach has the numbers.

Then things start to go wrong. Enda's backroom team fear the chosen one, John McNulty from Donegal, may not have the credentials to qualify as a member of the Seanad's cultural and educational panel. To fix that he is promptly appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) a fortnight ago today. Then his nomination is formally put through just days later. Everything is on target.

Then just five days ago, things start to unravel. The circumstances of the quick five-to-midnight IMMA board appointment come into the public domain. It also emerges that three women candidates were in the running for the Seanad nomination, but were overlooked by the Taoiseach.

The opposition turn the heat up. The Fine Gael insiders start asking questions - some are restive and others have an axe to grind because they were overlooked for promotion in the re-shuffle last July.

As controversy builds, Mr Kenny has three problems. First is that his government looks, yet again, not to be living up to their "new politics" pledge as they make State board.

Second, is that, one more time, Mr Kenny is not that bothered about gender as he passes over three potential women candidates and replaces an outgoing woman with a man.

In the brutal world of politics these two are less than ideal. But ultimately these are also awkward - not fatal.

But Mr Kenny's third and biggest problem here is that he looks pretty amateurish on this one. He looks less than a man who is in control. The Taoiseach looks like he bungled a pretty simple gig.

When we say that a number of further key points also arise. One is that John McNulty has impressed his would-be future Fine Gael party colleagues with a presentation. On another occasion and by another nomination route, he probably would slide nicely and quietly into the Seanad.

Another matter arising is the role of the Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, who actually made the IMMA appointment to boost Mr McNulty's cultural credentials. She was a popular and hard-working newcomer to Cabinet until all this blew up. These events have damaged her.

Finally, there are also questions about the role of Fine Gael HQ in this matter. There is a strong view within the parliamentary party that "HQ" was working the case here.

This is very probably totally true. But it is a simple fact that FG central office were merely doing the Taoiseach's bidding here. "Enda wanted McNulty - the professionals were sent to make it happen," one party figure summed up.

By now it appears very likely that this Seanad by-election will go ahead and that John McNulty will probably be elected. Seasoned party figures are already predicting that all of this row will blow over.

But what Enda Kenny takes from all of this farrago is the appearance of one who is not entirely on top of the job - and that could linger. That is not helpful for a man coping with disappointed backbenchers fretful about the next election. It is very unhelpful for a man who has to face the electorate in 18 months time at the latest.

Irish Independent

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