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John McNulty quits controversial state board job... but will continue his Seanad bid

The controversy surrounding Fine Gael’s nominee for the upper house is rumbling on today.

Image: Fine Gael via Flickr

Updated 11pm 

FINE GAEL’S NOMINEE for the Seanad, John McNulty, has announced he is stepping down from the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in the wake of controversy over his appointment to the position.

McNulty said his resignation is an accordance with IMMA’s own internal rules which preclude him from being a board member and contesting an election at the same time.

He said he will continue his campaign to be elected to the Seanad and will remain a member of IMMA. His statement in full:

“I am stepping down from the IMMA board with immediate effect, in accordance with IMMA’s internal rules, which preclude me from being a board member and contesting an election at the same time. I will continue to be a member of IMMA, and an active supporter of their work. I look forward to continuing my election campaign, for a seat in the Seanad.”

Tonight, one of McNulty’s opponents in the by-election, independent candidate Gerard Craughwell has written to the Seanad clerk and returning officer Deirdre Lane requesting that McNulty be removed from the ballot paper.

The former TUI president contends that McNulty is no longer eligible following his resignation from the IMMA board.

Craughwell states in an email to Lane: “As Mr McNulty’s has now resigned from that board and we now know he never attended any meetings of that board nor did he participate in any functional way with the board of IMMA I believe that Mr McNulty is no longer eligible to stand as a candidate for election.”

Craughwell is one of three candidates for the by-election of TDs and Senators with Sinn Féin putting forward Catherine Seeley. Ballot papers are due to be issued to Oireachtas members tomorrow with a result expected on 10 October.

‘Perfectly co-operative’

Earlier this afternoon, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said McNulty’s decision to step down was in line with the rules of the IMMA board with which he was being “perfectly cooperative”.

He also told reporters at the National Ploughing Championships that he thinks he has only met McNulty once before and there were over 20 expressions of interest in the seat.

Mr McNulty is a man with a great deal of experience, a great deal of energy, a gret deal of committment that he will bring to Seanad Eireann. So, they can’t all be winners, they can’t all be reappointed.

Before that the Arts Minister Heather  Humphreys refused to say whether McNulty applied for the position she appointed him to.

The minister is under pressure after it emerged she appointed McNulty to the board of IMMA six days before he was confirmed as Fine Gael’s nominee for the Seanad by-election. Humphreys also wouldn’t say whether she was aware he was the party’s pick for the Seanad when she appointed him.

Speaking to reporters at an event in the National Museum in Dublin today, Humphreys said: “I appointed him to the board of IMMA based on his ability to make a good contribution to the board of IMMA.”

Asked what contribution McNulty can make if he’s only on the board of IMMA for three weeks – he will have to resign once elected to the Seanad – Humphreys said:

“I looked at his credentials, and he had indicated an interest in serving on the board. I felt he was a good person and I think it’s important to remember that anybody who serves on the board of IMMA, as with all the other boards, it’s on a voluntary basis.”

She also claimed she was not aware that one of the overlooked candidates for the Seanad, Samantha Long, had resigned from the party this morning.

Earlier…

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said that Fine Gael’s nomination of John McNulty for the Seanad by-election is not a matter for the Labour Party.

Burton was speaking at Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today as the controversy over McNulty’s appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) – just six days before his nomination for the Seanad by election – rumbled on.

“What we’re talking about is a standard practice in relation to the filling of casual vacancies,” Burton said of Fine Gael’s selection of McNulty for the seat vacated by Deirdre Clune.

As she was pressed on the matter by Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, Burton insisted repeatedly: “It’s not a matter for the Labour Party. It’s a matter for Fine Gael.”

McDonald was thwarted in her attempts to raise McNulty’s appointment to the board of IMMA by the Ceann Comhairle who said the Sinn Féin deputy leader could not raise questions about McNulty’s qualifications in the Dáil.

As Burton tried to address the IMMA appointment issue the Ceann Comhairle intervened to tell her she was over time.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 12.15.32 Joan Burton in the Dáil this afternoon Source: Hugh O'Connell/TheJournal.ie

Enda’s right

Overnight, Taoiseach defended the decision to select McNulty describing it as, “the right of the leader of the day to decide who should be nominated.”

Kenny said McNulty’s appointment to the board of IMMA was made by Arts Minister Heather Humphreys “in her own right”.

Several TDs expressed their anger at how the party had handled the selection of John McNulty to take Deirdre Clune’s vacant seat in the upper house.

McNulty himself spoke at the Fine Gael meeting and even those who were most critical of the controversy said that it wasn’t about him – it was about how it was handled.

One TD said: “He seems like a very good candidate. So why did we f*** it up for him.”

Many Labour TDs are understood to be unhappy with what they see as “stroke politics”.

‘Gender balance’

Speaking in the US during a Famine Memorial Ceremony, Kenny said, “I hope that John McNulty will prove to be an outstanding Senator. He is a young man with considerable energy and potential.”

Addressing criticism over gender balance, the Taoiseach added:

“Well I saw some commentary about this in respect of gender balance. The two candidates in the Dail by elections, Cait Keane and Maura Hopkins, speak for themselves and are well able to represent themselves and are doing so hopefully will win those elections.

The person I appointed to chair the party’s electoral strategy, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, is also a woman… So comments about appointments and non appointments don’t stand up in that regard.

“Fine Gael is the party that has made most running here in terms of having more women appointed.”

McNulty is expected to meet with senior Labour members today.

- additional reporting from Cliodhna Russell, Órla Ryan, Dan McGuill and Michelle Hennessy.

First published 8.25am 

Read: Lots of Fine Gael and Labour people are angry about this man’s appointment to a state board

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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