The Taoiseach has seen off any major backlash over his handling of Fine Gael’s nomination process for the Seanad by-election after backbenchers were told to keep their focus on economic recovery.
Enda Kenny is still refusing to name the Fine Gael official who he blames for the botched handling of the issue, despite being asked to do so at a meeting last night of the parliamentary party.
He told the Dáil earlier that “the official dealing with this” did not “get back” to the party’s sub-committee charged with handling the Seanad nomination.
“That was the cause of great angst and a cause of concern to me,” he said.
John McNulty was appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) before he knew that he would be Fine Gael’s Seanad candidate, the Taoiseach said.
When he interviewed him to assess his suitability to sit on the Seanad’s cultural panel, “I never discussed anything with him about cultural boards or any other boards”, he told the Dáil.
Mr Kenny told reporters that he would not identify the individual who he claims acted “beneath” the party’s standards, because he believes the person would be “publicly pilloried” as a result.
The Taoiseach later addressed a meeting of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and told TDs he was taking full responsibility for the debacle but stressed the need for the party to move on.
The finance minister, Michael Noonan, stepped in to rescue the Taoiseach and attempted to steady the nerves of TDs and senators — and to defuse the controversy which has overshadowed all other political events for 10 days.
Mr Noonan said that mistakes were made, but that the country had entered a phase of recovery and there would be two more palatable budgets between now and the next general election — which he said would be in 2016.
Waterford TD John Deasy asked Mr Kenny the name of the official responsible for what one minister said was a “mess”. The Taoiseach replied that there was “no construction of Mr McNulty’s credentials” to take up the Seanad seat.
There was also some criticism of the Cavan-Monaghan TD, Sean Conlan, for his public comments last week in which he compared Mr Kenny to the former Fianna Fáil taoiseach, Charles Haughey. Cork South Central TD, Jerry Buttimer, suggested to the meeting that the Taoiseach should consider changing some of his long-serving political advisers.
Although there was no major confrontation between TDs and senators at last night’s meeting, there were calls on the Taoiseach from members described as “neutrals” — neither rebels nor loyalists — for greater efforts to rebuild trust with the public and a reconnect with voters.
Despite attempts to end the controversy at last night’s meeting, Mr Kenny’s woes may not be over, with many TDs anticipating that Mr McNulty might still win the Seanad seat on October 10, despite his request to Oireachtas members not to vote for him.
A number of TDs and senators had already cast their ballots before Mr McNulty announced on Tuesday that he was no longer seeking the seat. It’s expected that others may proceed to do so.
This could result in a situation where Mr Kenny’s control over his party would be called into question if his request not to vote for Mr McNulty was defied.
The Taoiseach also admitted to the Dáil yesterday that winning a seat in Donegal in the next general election was part of his reason for nominating Mr McNulty to the Seanad.
He said 29 names were submitted as potential candidates and the party’s executive council made two recommendations.
“Subsequently, Deputy [Dinny] McGinley said he was going to retire. That left a vacancy for a major political representative for half of Donegal,” Mr Kenny said.
“I looked at Mr McNulty’s credentials and said he was a candidate who would fit the bill in terms of work in the Seanad.”
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