Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Cabinet are under severe pressure to withdraw the nomination of Kevin Cardiff, the secretary general of the Department of Finance, for a top €1.6m European post, after he was branded an "embarrassment".
n the wake of Mr Cardiff's "disastrous" performance last Thursday at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over his department's €3.6bn accounting blunder, Fine Gael and Labour ministers are at odds this weekend in trying to blame each other for the debacle, but were unwilling to speak on the record.
As senior ministers yesterday revealed their disquiet over the affair, saying it had caused a "fresh dilemma" for the Government, Finance Minister Michael Noonan came to the defence of his top official, saying he was "not personally responsible for the error".
One of Mr Noonan's FG colleagues said: "His disastrous appearance at the PAC has opened a fresh dilemma for the Government.
"It certainly wasn't good and has added to an already bad week for Fine Gael."
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Another minister said: "Mr Cardiff is in a position that demands credibility, but that is now in question because of this affair."
Four members of the PAC, including three from the government parties, have also expressed grave concern over the nomination in light of the €3.6bn error.
Independent TD Shane Ross criticised Mr Cardiff's refusal to give the PAC an assurance he would not go to Europe until "the mess was cleared up".
FG TD Simon Harris yesterday called for Mr Cardiff's nomination to be "put on ice" pending the outcome of the two inquiries.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Harris said: "It is totally inappropriate to continue with his nomination while two separate inquiries are under way. He will be subjected to a vetting process in Europe and in no way should Ireland be exposed to any potential embarrassment."
Labour Wicklow TD Anne Ferris, who is also a member of the PAC, said that if such an error occurred in the private sector then people would be held properly accountable and their jobs would have been in question.
"In the private sector, or if this was another country, heads would roll. People would lose their jobs over it. The bottom line is that the buck stops with him, he was in charge," she said.
Ms Ferris stopped short of directly calling for Mr Cardiff's resignation.
Kieran O'Donnell, Limerick FG TD, said many serious issues remained around Mr Cardiff's role in how this sat untouched for 15 months.
"At the PAC many issues were raised, and we still don't have the full answers. There is a lack of information and I want to see these reports as quickly as possible."
Mr Ross also added: "Mr Cardiff should not go until the €3.6bn debacle is sorted to the satisfaction of the PAC and ministers."
In an unprecedented level of criticism for a senior official, a host of politicians from all sides of Leinster House, including senior and junior ministers, have called into question Mr Cardiff's suitability for the highly prestigious job in Brussels.
A huge public majority, 81 per cent, also feel the Government should withdraw his nomination to the European Court of Auditors following the disclosure of the €3.6bn error in his department, according to the latest Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research poll.
Mr Cardiff was yesterday branded "an embarrassment" by the chairman of the PAC John McGuinness, who said his nomination to the European Court of Auditors was "untenable".
"He is an embarrassment. The Government must review this decision immediately before he is interviewed in Europe," Mr McGuinness said.
"Quite honestly, after his performance over the €3.6bn error, Cardiff's position is un-tenable," he added.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr McGuinness said: "Cardiff's performance [at the PAC] was astonishing; he lectured us about how good he was at his job. Then he said he was going to set up his own terms of reference for the inquiry and it would be an in-house inquiry."
But last night Finance Minister Michael Noonan came to the defence of his most senior official, saying the Government would not be withdrawing the nomination.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Noonan said: "There is no question of the Government withdrawing the nomination. Kevin Cardiff was not personally responsible for the error.
"The nomination has been made, he will have to go before a committee and we will be asking for his nomination to be ratified."
Asked did he seek to remove Mr Cardiff, Mr Noonan said that he "hardly knew him" before he took up office.
"I always seek to work with people. I have found him satisfactory to work with. This opportunity came up and I discussed it with him. He expressed an interest."
However, even before last week's controversy, concern existed at senior levels within the Coalition over the manner in which Mr Cardiff's nomination to the European Court of Auditors was railroaded through the Cabinet without debate.
Senior government sources have claimed that three-quarters of the Cabinet had "raised eyebrows" over that one.
One senior FG minister said yesterday he had learned of Mr Cardiff's nomination through the television news, but accepted it was "probably the cheapest way of getting rid of him". When asked did he still support his nomination, the minister said: "It's best we get shot of him."
The coalition partners are at "sixes and sevens" with each other over which party was responsible for the Cardiff debacle. Top Labour figures have claimed the nomination of Mr Cardiff is seen as a Noonan and Kenny idea.
But in line with recent tensions between FG and Labour, Fine Gael sources insisted that Mr Cardiff was a Brendan Howlin appointment, and he was the one who had pushed for him.
However, Mr Howlin told the Sunday Independent: "That claim would be absolutely wrong. I supported the proposal but I certainly wasn't the progenitor."
Mr Howlin claimed the job was not "mine to give" and stressed that the "decision was unanimous".
Defending the decision, Mr Howlin added: "I regard Kevin as a decent honourable and capable public servant."
FF's finance spokesman Michael McGrath also called for the nomination to be halted until the internal and external reviews were completed.
"It is inconceivable that his nomination goes ahead before a proper investigation has been concluded. Having presided over a department that sat on a €3.6bn error for 15 months, it is even more inconceivable that the minister was not told until the very last minute," Mr McGrath said.
It has also emerged that information given by Mr Cardiff to the European Parliament to support his nomination to the European Court of Auditors could end up scuppering his chances of securing the €1.6m job.
Responding in writing on October 21 last to questions from the Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control, Mr Cardiff expressed several opinions that may now leave him open to serious questions from MEPs in the light of the discovery two weeks ago of a €3.6bn accounting error at the Department of Finance.
Asked in his application questionnaire what he believed the "main features of a sound financial management culture in any public service" should be, Mr Cardiff provided several potential hostages to fortune, saying: "Information systems must be adequate to ensure effective management of projects and programmes, and to inform internal and external oversight functions.
"Tasks within the organisation concerned must be clearly defined and allocated. Transparency and accountability of managers is key," he added. In the latest Sunday Independent/Quantum Research nationwide poll, the issue of credibility was brought up, with many people questioning the judgement of the Government on this issue.
"Given the magnitude of the mistake, he should face the same consequences to his actions that he would if he was in the private sector," one male respondent said.