herald

Thursday 15 November 2018

Kenny's Seanad stroke treats us all with contempt

Does Enda Kenny think we are all stupid? Or has the Taoiseach become so arrogant that he feels able to pull a blatant political stroke and get away with it?

Either way, this week's Seanad by-election scandal is a poor reflection on Enda's character - and shows why even a recovering economy may not be enough to secure him a second term.

The facts speak for themselves. Last week Fine Gael nominated John McNulty, a failed local election candidate in Donegal, to contest a vacant Seanad seat on the Cultural and Education panel.

By a happy coincidence, just five days earlier he had been appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then chances are its name is Donald. This was quite obviously a Fine Gael ploy to boost McNulty's cultural credentials until the by-election is safely over.

Since only TDs and Senators can vote, his victory is a sure thing - which means that Oireachtas rules will force him to step down from IMMA in a few weeks.

Perhaps McNulty really is an expert on the works of Pablo Picasso and Jack B Yeats. More importantly from Fine Gael's point of view, he might win a Dail seat in the next election.

Shoving a party hack into the Upper House to raise his constituency profile is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Fiasco

To make matters worse, McNulty was not even on Fine Gael's original shortlist. Instead the party's national executive put forward three female candidates, all of whom have now been shoved aside in the race to get Kenny's man over the line.

Two months ago the Taoiseach (pictured left) was slammed for failing to include a single woman in his junior ministerial team - and this latest fiasco bolsters the perception that Fine Gael is still essentially an old boys' club.

In the Seanad on Tuesday Arts Minister Heather Humphreys faced pointed questions about the McNulty affair.

Her performance was so dismal that by the end she was reduced to reading from a pre-prepared script for the second time.

Humphreys' image is now badly damaged, but she cannot take all the blame - the lion's share belongs to a Taoiseach who forced his minister to defend the indefensible.

Does any of this really matter? After all, nobody cares very much about Seanad Eireann - apart from its overpaid and under-worked members.

Kenny is obviously assuming that the whole controversy will die down quickly and he may well be proved right.

The real problem is what this tells us about Enda's attitude to the people who elected him in 2011.

He promised to clean up politics but was essentially spoofing for the purpose of wining a few extra votes.

His Programme for Government declared a "democratic revolution", but today he is up to his neck in a stunt that would have made Charlie Haughey blush with shame.

The response from Kenny's government colleagues is equally disappointing. Health Minister Leo Varadkar has a well-earned reputation for calling fouls on his own team.

On this occasion, however, the ambitious watchdog has apparently decided to roll over and play dead.

Labour seems unlikely to rock the boat either. Tanaiste Joan Burton has called for all State board nominations to be made through the Public Appointments Commission, while other TDs have made tut-tutting noises.

arrogance

Not for the first time Labour wants credit for saying the right thing but none of the hassle involved in actually doing it.

Over the last few weeks, the Government has had a new spring in its step.

Thanks to the recent positive economic news, some Fine Gael and Labour bigwigs are privately boasting that their re-election is already in the bag.

They should cop themselves on. The unpleasant whiff of arrogance from this week's events is a stark reminder of why many people have come to dislike Kenny's coalition so much.

Despite his best efforts, the Taoiseach cannot fool all of the people all of the time - and he may eventually learn that lesson in a particularly painful way.

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