Tánaiste backs minister in controversial PR appointment

Patricia Ryan

Tánaiste Joan Burton is standing over a Labour minister’s decision to appoint a special adviser who left Limerick’s City of Culture project amidst controversy.

Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch’s move to bring former Mary Harney adviser Patricia Ryan into her inner circle has raised eyebrows within Labour.

Ms Ryan left her leading post at the City of Culture organisation after it came to light that she did not undergo an interview for the position when the project’s board was chaired by her former PD boss Pat Cox.

The row was one of a series of embarrassments that plunged the launch of the prestigious arts event into controversy, and led to accusations of cronyism.

Some Labour figures expressed unease at Ms Lynch’s decision to appoint Ms Ryan to a health role which pays between €65,000 and €71,758, but the Tánaiste publicly backed the move.

A spokesperson for Ms Burton said Ms Ryan had proven abilities in the field of PR and the Labour leader supported the appointment of the special adviser.

However, one Labour TD said: “This is a bad idea. Not only is she associated with the PDs, but Mary Harney is not the kind of legacy we want to repeat.”

After Ms Ryan’s sudden departure as chief executive of the City of Culture project, Mr Cox said he had to accept that people thought there was political influence at work in his organisation, but denied this was the reality.

Mr Cox said his only role in the appointment process had been to accept the nomination of Limerick city manager Conn Murray who, he said, had spoken to five candidates before recommending Ms Ryan. She had already been working as an adviser to the board before she was controversially hired as CEO. Mr Cox said there was a perception that, because Ms Ryan was his former adviser, it was a political decision. “I never asked, from the time I was asked to undertake this job, for anyone to be appointed.

“I never asked for Patricia Ryan to be appointed. I never asked for myself or any contact of mine. People will have their view and I simply have to respect their views,” Mr Cox said last year.

The Coalition has been plagued by accusations of cronyism, and some TDs believe this latest appointment will refocus public attention on the issue.

Coalition unity was rocked last autumn when Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced John McNulty would be Fine Gael’s candidate for a vacant seat on the Seanad’s cultural panel, six days after Arts Minister Heather Humphreys had appointed the Donegal businessman to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Ms Lynch, who is abroad for St Patrick’s Day celebrations, was unavailable for comment.


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