Heather Humphreys in the Seanad this evening Screengrab via Oireachtas TV

Heather Humphreys faced new claims about 'McNulty-gate' in the Seanad tonight

New claims of a meeting between the Taoiseach and John McNulty in June have been dismissed this evening.

Updated 7.12pm 

A FIANNA FÁIL senator’s claims about a meeting between the Taoiseach and Fine Gael’s controversial Seanad by-election candidate John McNulty last June have been dismissed as “nonsense” this evening.

Speaking in the Seanad earlier, Mark Daly said that McNulty was part of a delegation that met with Enda Kenny at the reopening of Lissadell House in Sligo on 20 June – three months before he was confirmed as the Fine Gael by-election candidate.

But a spokesperson for the Taoiseach said this evening: ”The Taoiseach attended Lissadell House on the 20th of June this year where he met and shook hands with many of the hundreds of guests in attendance.

“The first and only time the Taoiseach discussed Mr McNulty’s potential Seanad candidacy with him was in early September.”

Earlier, a government source dismissed Daly’s claims as “nonsense”. It’s believed that McNulty attended the event at Lissadell House with his elderly aunt and was not part of any Fine Gael delegation.

He had no meeting or any discussion with the Taoiseach on the day of the event which was attended by several hundred people. ”It’s a total nonsense,” said a source of Daly’s claims.

McNulty was appointed to the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s (IMMA) board six days before he was announced as Fine Gael’s candidate for the Seanad. The controversy has caused a huge political headache for the government in recent weeks and led to accusations of cronyism.

Arts Minister Heather Humphreys did not directly address Daly’s claims as she spoke on a Fianna Fáil motion on arts and culture in the upper house.

While Kenny met with McNulty to interview him prior to the Donegal shop manager’s selection as the Fine Gael candidate, the exact date of this meeting is still not known.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 17.30.53 1 Mark Daly in the Seanad this evening Screengrab Screengrab

Earlier, the Fianna Fáil senator Darragh O’Brien said Humphreys’ authority as minister had been “totally undermined” by the controversy and said: “Your party tried to pull one of greatest political strokes ever.”

He said that the Fine Gael used the arts sector “for your own political party needs” and described the situation as a “total and utter farce”.

In her response Humphreys said she had covered the McNulty issue in her speech in the Seanad last night. The minister reiterated that McNulty was appointed “on merit” and added: “I have learned valuable lessons from this experience.”

In scripted remarks on the arts and culture sector, Humphreys said she wanted the upcoming 1916 commemorations to be “inclusive, respectful and appropriate” and said it is one of her top priorities.

She also said: “I feel passionately about the individuality of the arts. How self-expression through the arts can create a dialogue and allow us to understand the world in a different way.”

Defending the government, Fine Gael’s leader in the Seanad, Maurice Cummins, accused Fianna Fáil of “stuffing boards with political hacks” during its 14 years in government.

Last night: Humphreys keeping schtum on Fine Gael official who gave her John McNulty’s CV

Read: John McNulty goes back to running his shop as Enda says he didn’t vote for him

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