Friday 23 February 2018

Back McNulty to save Taoiseach's blushes, TDs told

Enda Kenny pictured with John McNulty
Enda Kenny pictured with John McNulty

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

SENIOR coalition figures are to heap pressure on wavering TDs and senators to support Seanad by-election candidate John McNulty to "minimise the embarrassment" caused by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Government whips will this week urge their colleagues to back the Donegal businessman in a bid to draw a line under the highly damaging cronyism controversy.

Tanaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton yesterday said her own TDs and senators will be expected to support the Fine Gael candidate during the secret ballot next month. Ms Burton spoke at length with Mr Kenny about the affair yesterday but said she accepts the apology put forward by the Taoiseach on Friday.

"The Taoiseach himself has apologised in relation to how it was handled and I am glad that he has spoken about that," she told reporters. Ms Burton added that Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin is to bring a memo to government which proposes making State board appointments more transparent.

The Government currently holds a strong majority ahead of the Seanad by-election but after two weeks of controversy, there is uncertainty over how dissident members of both Fine Gael and Labour will vote.

While a number of TDs and senators have told the Irish Independent that they are considering voting for independent candidate Gerard Craughwell or not voting at all, the prospect of Mr McNulty being defeated is seen as slim.

However, both Labour and Fine Gael sources have admitted that Mr Kenny's credibility will be further damaged if a sizeable number of TDs and senators do not support Mr McNulty's candidacy.

The deep sense of anger within Fine Gael over his appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) and Mr Kenny's principal role in the affair will be expressed at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting tomorrow. Mr Kenny will be forced to defend the fact that Mr McNulty spent just 13 days as a member of the IMMA board, which has been used to strengthen to credentials ahead of the by-election. Despite his short tenure as an IMMA board member, the membership is listed on the ballot papers distributed to Oireachtas members.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach is almost certain to be quizzed over the controversy later today by Opposition leaders.

A spokesman for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said last night that the party will seek special time to quiz Mr Kenny over Mr McNulty's appointment.

But despite the controversy remaining on the political agenda, coalition figures are confident of securing the numbers to win the by-election.

The electorate for the Seanad election to replace Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune consists of 226 members of both Houses.

After losing a number of TDs and Senators during the passing of the controversial abortion legislation, Fine Gael has 71 members in the Dail and 16 in the Seanad.

Labour has 33 TDs and 11 Senators, and the party said it was supporting the Government candidate.

Meanwhile, an independent candidate Gerard Craughwell has refused to rule out instigating a judicial review into the decision.

The former trade unionist said he believes the matter may have to be reviewed by the standards watchdog.

Irish Independent

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