The Government behaved in an "underhand" way during the Cronygate controversy, Fine Gael’s chief whip has admitted.
Paul Kehoe said the affair, which led to the Coalition losing its majority in the Seanad, was one of a number of self-inflicted “stupid mistakes” that littered 2014.
The political storm erupted after it emerged John McNulty had been appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) by Arts Minister Heather Humphreys just six days before Enda Kenny nominated him to stand for a vacancy on the cultural panel of the upper house.
Mr Kehoe denied the move was “stroke politics” but did brand it “underhand”. “There is no fiddling of money or anything like this here, this is just underhand, untoward, unlike Fine Gael to do,” Mr Kehoe told the Irish Examiner.
Mr McNulty asked people not to vote for him in the Seanad by-election and Mr Kenny was forced to admit the affair was not his “finest hour”.
Mr Kehoe suggested that the Government lurched through a stream of mistakes because ministers had spent so much time dealing with the exit from the bailout.
“We came out of the bailout and the first thing to face us in January was the bonus culture in Irish Water and then we went straight into whistleblowers, and Shattergate and the Garda commissioner.... and that just continued on for so long,” said Mr Kehoe.
“Totally self-inflicted wounds, absolutely eye-off- the-ball stuff, in that we were so busy, every minister was so busy in their department, they had a huge amount of work after exiting the troika, that they had to focus on.”
Mr Kehoe said the Government was determined to improve its performance in 2015 after bad poll ratings.
“The electorate are giving us a good kicking now and saying ‘we are keeping an eye exactly on what you are doing and we watching closely — you did make a hames of Irish Water, you did make a hames of John McNulty and you did make a hames of the whole whistleblower issue’.
“I believe we can get away from what happened in 2014 and make a fresh start in 2015.
“I think people will look at our five years in power as a whole rather than taking out a number of stupid mistakes we made with Irish Water, John McNulty and whistleblowers, GSOC. They will look at the economy and the employment opportunities that we have created.”
Mr Kehoe defended Ms Humphreys’s role in the McNulty affair, but admitted that she had been left “tarnished” by it.
“I don’t know if it was inexperience or not,” he said. “Heather Humphreys wasn’t aware of the situation, she appointed John McNulty on his credentials for the position she wanted to fill and that was entirely up to her to do that and she was appointing John McNulty in good faith.
“I felt sorry for Heather because she had only been appointed to that position as minister for arts a couple of months earlier and she was just straight into it in September and she was just castigated in the media and it tarnished her ministerial name, as they say, but she has already bounced back.”
He insisted the Government had learned lessons.
“I think we should have handled it totally differently than what we did,” he said.
“People and the membership were extremely disappointed. We have learned lessons that that is unacceptable politics. People expected better from Fine Gael and specifically our own core supporters.”
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