Taoiseach Enda Kenny rejected three women shortlisted for a vacant Seanad seat and instead put forward a party activist – a move labelled “the greatest cynical stroke in politics in recent times”.
The Government has also been accused of appointing failed local election candidate John McNulty to a State
board in order to boost his credentials for being put into the Seanad.
The furore over Fine Gael’s actions is now causing embarrassment for the Labour Party.
Mr McNulty’s nomination to the Seanad caused surprise in Fine Gael – as he was not on the shortlist provided by the party’s ruling body over the summer.
Fine Gael’s national executive put forward Stephanie Regan, Samantha Long and Councillor Kate O’Connell, the Irish Independent has learned.
But Mr McNulty was “plucked from relative arts obscurity” to be appointed to the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) a fortnight ago. And within days, his name emerged as the Government candidate for a seat in the Seanad on the Cultural and Educational Panel, which requires expertise and experience in the cultural field.
One source said the women had been “shafted” at a time when there should be a focus on getting more women into politics.
The bypassing of the female candidates follows the criticism of Mr Kenny for not nominating any female junior ministers in the Cabinet reshuffle.
Mr McNulty’s appointment to the museum was described as being aimed at getting him “over the hill and through the gap for a Seanad election”.
Arts Minister Heather Humphreys has defended the appointment, but the opposition claimed that she was acting on “instructions from above in Fine Gael”.
The Seanad vacancy arises from the election of Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune to the European Parliament in May.
The shortlist was first developed in June, when the names of Ms Regan and Ms Long, who both ran unsuccessfully in the local election, were put forward.
“The Taoiseach had those two names on June 7 or 8,” a party source said. These names were again discussed by party hierarchy four weeks later.
But the Seanad by-election was delayed and the party sought names to be put forward. Up to 30 names were compiled, including Mr McNulty, who a party source said was “not even remotely considered”.
Mr McNulty was a failed candidate in the local elections. “The only sliver of justification is he was nominated by his constituency, along with 30 others, but there was no real mention of his name,” a source said.
Out of that process, the names of Ms Regan and Ms Long again emerged, along with Ms O’Connell as a third option.
Ms Regan is a potential general election candidate in Dublin Bay North, Ms Long in Dublin South-East or Dublin South-Central and Ms O’Connell in Dublin South-East.
At a meeting of the Fine Gael national executive 10 days ago, a party official told members there was a problem with qualifications for nomination to the Seanad panel.
“The implied agreement was it was going to be a woman because we have a problem with gender quotas.”
A source said: “Everyone thought it was going to be one of those three. We have shafted two women, three women really, and we’re all talking about the need to promote women.”
Mr McNulty’s candidacy was circulated to Fine Gael TDs and senators last Wednesday. The previous Friday, he was appointed to the art gallery board.
Arts Minister Ms Humphreys defended his appointment to the State board. She said he is a self-employed businessman who brings 15 years business experience to the IMMA board.
He is involved in the Tourism and Cultural Committee in Kilcar and has a track record in promoting culture, heritage, the GAA and the Irish language.
Ms Humphreys said he was actively involved in local heritage events and heritage restoration projects in South Donegal, as well as festivals such as the Fleadh Ceoil. The minister also said he is driving a local Irish language development plan.
But opposition and coalition members alike voiced their anger at the appointment and linked it directly to his nomination to the Seanad.
Fianna Fail Senator Thomas Byrne said it “got him over the hill and through the gap for a Seanad election”. He said Ms Humphreys received “instructions from above in Fine Gael to appoint him”.
Independent Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames said it was the “greatest cynical stroke in politics in recent times”.
Labour Party Seanad leader Ivana Bacik also expressed “serious concerns” about the appointment and the “perception” it creates. She said the move did not seem to be in keeping with Government reforms.
Ms Bacik’s comments were widely viewed as signalling discomfort in the junior coalition party, which signed off on the appointment to the State board.
Independent Senators Fiach MacConghail and David Norris also objected to the nomination.
Mr Norris said it was “fairly obvious” the orders to appoint Mr McNulty “came from on top”. He said the Seanad by-election was “utterly rigged and disgraceful”.
Fianna Fail Senator Ned O’Sullivan said Mr McNulty was “plucked from relative arts obscurity”.