Analysis: McNulty affair a stroke of bad luck for Government

So many great quotes this week, but the best was from one of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s handlers, who, while defending Kenny damned him with faint praise: he said the Taoiseach was busy, because he had a country to “help” run.

Given the squalid Seanad shambles over which Mr Kenny presided, we should, no doubt, be grateful he is just ‘helping out’ — imagine the chaos that would ensue if he was actually in charge? But, not to worry, here comes the new-look Labour Party, with its moral compass firmly pointed in the direction of good governance — oh, but wait, it isn’t.

Brendan Howlin came bounding out of the Coalition car crash to announce he was creating a “portal” where all the cushy State vacancies would be listed, so as to sort out all this ‘jobs for the boys stuff’ once and for all.

Ooooh, a portal, how exciting: the ‘democratic revolution’ promised by the Government is finally under way. Said portal would take us to a new frontier of openness, apparently, and the Star Trek language was especially appropriate, as it showed that Labour is still on another planet.

In this brave new world, ministers would still have the final say on who got the job, and Mr Howlin said he had no idea if even one appointment would have been different in the past three years if his fabled portal had been in place.

Mr Howlin could also see nothing wrong with junior environment minister, Paudie Coffey, employing Hilary Quinlan, a member of the Irish Water Board — a utility the Environment Department oversees — as his personal chauffeur, at a cost of €665 a week to the taxpayer.

This would make most self-respecting banana republics blush, but Mr Howlin saw no reason for Mr Quinlan to quit.

Cutting through all the crap, former FG councillor Quinlan said: “You tell me one party... who doesn’t look after their own.”

And, displaying a wonderful turn of phrase, he demanded why the media was not focusing on the economy: “We were all nearly eating out of bins three years ago,” he told the Irish Times.

Within hours, Mr Quinlan had tipped over into the bin of political history and had quit his €15,000 a year post at Irish Water.

At the same time, Mr Kenny was busy throwing yet another body from the train, in order to keep his premiership on the rails, as his Seanad nominee, John McNulty, deployed the unusual campaign slogan: ‘Don’t vote for me — I’m a bit upset’, as he effectively withdrew from the race after provoking uproar.

Back in the Dáil, Mr Kenny was performing more clumsy somersaults than an accident-prone circus acrobat: he contradicted and contorted himself in recounting the amazing coincidence of how Mr McNulty got appointed to a top-rank culture post by Arts Minister, Heather Humphreys, just six days before McNulty was nominated as Fine Gael’s candidate for the Seanad’s cultural panel. It was an increasingly bizarre account.

In a feisty performance, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: “This story is unravelling as it gets made up.”

But what is most impressive about Mr Martin’s is that he keeps a straight face while laying into Fine Gael for attempting the kind of political strokemanship that was perfected by Fianna Fáil.

As for Ms Humphreys, she is in danger of tipping over into being a farcical minister, the likes of which we have not seen since the hapless heyday of Mary Coughlan, when she occupied the role of comedic Cabinet member in the dying months of the last, disaster-laden government.

Seemingly unable to utter a coherent sentence on her role in this shabby affair, and terrified of having to answer questions on the subject, Ms Humphreys slipped out an insipid statement that still left many aspects unclear. She ended the missive pleading that she was a “new minister” and had learned many valuable lessons from the incident.

Lesson one, Heather: Think twice before accepting a Cabinet job to which you have been over-promoted, and for which you are not yet ready.

Lesson two, Heather: When you ignore lesson one and accept that Cabinet job, try not to get mixed-up in any of Mr Kenny’s clownish attempts at political manipulation.

At a gig in Dundrum, the Taoiseach’s press handlers tried to limit questions on the raging controversy to just one.

After consulting an atlas and checking that Dundrum was, indeed, still in South Dublin and not in North Korea, the Irish Examiner dared ask three more questions.

Well, two, actually, as we had to repeat the first one about the rising hostility towards Mr Kenny among his own TDs, after he did his usual trick of rambling on about something completely unrelated, in order to use up the time.

The second attempt at least elicited a meandering metaphor about Fine Gael being a team and needing to pull together to win the championships, but when we pointed out that many people on his team did not want him to be captain anymore, Mr Kenny made an obscure reference to hurling and the whole thing was shut down immediately.

So much for the new era of transparency and openness.

The final score is that most people do not believe Mr Kenny on McNultygate — not even a majority of his own TDs — and that is a very dangerous position for a Taoiseach.

And returning to Enda’s sporting theme: well done to captain Kenny for turning an open goal into an own goal.

In yet another twist, Mr McNulty actually winning the tainted election, and then resigning, could yet be the climax for this three-act political farce.

But why did Labour leader Joan Burton not blow the whistle on this sorry mess when she had the chance? Labour could have got out ahead of the curve, insisted it would not stand over this, and carved out new ground for itself as the watch-dogs of the public good. Instead, Labour showed it learned nothing from its shameful silence during Shattergate, and the much-hyped changeover from Eamon Gilmore to Burton merely means the party has gone from being the lapdog that didn’t bark to the poodle that didn’t even whimper.


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