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John McNulty Fine Gael via Flickr

Arts Minister defends decision to give Fine Gael's Seanad nominee a state board job

John McNulty was appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art days before he was nominated for the vacant Seanad seat.

Updated 6.40pm 

ARTS MINISTER HEATHER Humphreys has defended the appointment of Fine Gael’s nominee for the vacant Seanad seat to a state board.

Donegal-based John McNulty was made an unpaid director at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) six days before his nomination papers were submitted for the Seanad seat vacated by newly-elected MEP Deirdre Clune, Today FM reported last night.

The 37-year-old convenience store manager will become a senator next month after a by-election of Oirechtas members – a formality as the coalition has the required number of votes – and take Clune’s seat on the Cultural and Education Panel.

McNulty’s appointment to the IMMA board is viewed by opposition senators as an attempt bolster his cultural credentials in order for him to qualify for the panel seat.

Seanad defence

After the opposition won a vote forcing Humphreys to explain the decision to the upper house the minister told the Seanad this evening that the appointment had been made to ensure “better regional representation” on the IMMA board.

She insisted: “I have absolutely no role to play in the selection of candidates for the Seanad by-election.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 18.07.17 Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Humphreys (above) said she was not confined to making appointments based on expressions of interest and said she was “satisfied that the ultimate appointees have the relevant experience”. It’s believed McNulty did not apply for the IMMA board membership.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht defended the appointment in a statement last night, saying that McNulty’s appointment, along with historian Sheila O’Regan, was to boost representation for the regions on the IMMA board.

A spokesperson insisted that that McNulty has “a track record in promoting culture, heritage, the GAA and the Irish language.” These words were echoed by Humphreys in the Seanad this evening.

The Minister described McNulty as a self-employed businessman who has a track record in promoting GAA, culture and heritage and said he is “driving” a three-year Irish language development plan for his local area.

Labour concerns

Fianna Fáil senator Thomas Byrne slammed the appointment and alleged that Humphreys was ordered to make the appointment to facilitate his Seanad by-election campaign.

Labour’s leader in the Seanad, Ivana Bacik, said she had concerns about the manner and timing of McNulty’s appointment to IMMA. She said the move “doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the government reforms”.

Reform Alliance senator Fidelma Healy-Eames said that within two to three weeks of his likely election to the Seanad next month, McNulty will have to step down from the board of IMMA.

Fine Gael’s Seanad leader Maurice Cummins said McNulty was qualified for the role and accused Byrne of living in “cloud cuckoo land”. His party colleague Paul Coghlan said that McNulty is “eminently qualified” for the role.

Who is John McNulty?

McNulty was a losing candidate for Fine Gael in May’s local elections failing to get elected to Donegal County Council having won just over 800 votes, less than half of the quota required for the six seat Donegal electoral area.

He has so far declined to comment on the matter, but a source close to him said this morning that he has sufficient experience to justify the appointment.

Though his election to the Seanad is a formality, McNulty has two opponents in the by-election, independent candidate and former TUI president Gerard Craughwell and Sinn Féin councillor Catherine Seeley.

Craughwell has been strongly criticising the McNulty candidacy and nomination to the IMMA board on his Twitter feed in the last 24 hours:

First published 9.47am 

Read: This guy is Fine Gael’s surprise pick for the vacant Seanad seat

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