Seanad Debacle: Enda, Heather and John face the pressing need to “stop digging”…

What’s most remarkable about the Seanad controversy is how it reveals the ineptness of the Taoiseach’s handling of what started as a crisis at the sleepy end of the Oireachtas. But the Seanad has been like a body risen since Enda slung it rather carelessly onto death row back in October 2009.

The man at the centre of the controversy was, as many from other parties before him, Kilcar man John McNulty, was supposed to get a run in as Senator and then go on to ‘represent’ his area of south Donegal (even though officially Senators have no direct representative duties).

It all came undone when someone spotted that other than his committment to the local GAA star factory in his home town, he might not otherwise be seen to qualify for the appropriate vocational panel – an arcane mechanism dates from the corporatism which was popular in Europe in the 1930s – after which he was appointed to the board of IMMA.

His appointment only lasted 13 days, when he ‘discovered’ he would have to step down anyway during the election. Just yesterday, apparently. So how did he get appointed? Well, just the day before the Arts and Heritage Minister was asked in the Seanad by Fiach MacConghail (Director of the Abbey Theatre)..

…[was] the chairman of the IMMA was consulted about the skill set? The arts world is being crucified in terms of public funding. I want to know whether the Minister, or a previous Minister, engaged with the current chairman of IMMA to determine the skill set required by members of the board?

Answer came there none from the Minister… That was two days ago, and she’s still not spoken (there was a complete no show on Prime Time from anyone in hte Government last night), and now Enda appears to be deflecting all the press attention back on to her.

Now here’s the thing, McNulty would have been of no direct concern of the Minister. The politics of this are quite simple. Donegal is losing a seat at the next general election, which brings it down from six to five.

Sinn Fein and Fine Gael both have two prominent sitting TDs, but Dinny McGinley is due to step down. McNulty with his position in the GAA would have been a strong contender to keep that seat for the party in the teeth of a strong revival for Fianna Fail in the county.

None of that would have been the direct concern of Heather Humphries. It is strictly a matter for party headquarters. FG TD John Deasy has spoken out on the matter of speaking of a high handed group around Enda, and is clearly frustrated at the lack of progress for younger talent.

That’s in part a problem that inevitably comes with having a huge parliamentary party, although this time it is unlikely that Deasy or anyone else will be leaving over the head of it. But the sidelining of that talent and many of the ideas they brought to the party in opposition is now a serious political problem for Enda.

Yesterday on RTE’s Drivetime programme, Philip Boucher Hayes went fishing in the RTE sound archives for what Fine Gael politicians were saying back in 2009 on the matter of public appointments…

It’s an indictment of the current government’s handling of the whole reform issue, not simply with regard to the Oireachtas but in the very real problem of transparency of the conduct of public appointments. That pure competency (rather than just common or garden cronyism) was the issue only emphasises the extent to which that talent has been sidelined.

As an aside, this morning on Morning Ireland, in calling for a re-run of the process (which the FG candidate would certainly win) Micheal Martin sounded for the first time in a while a man utterly in command of his brief… All on a day when the news should have been more hopeful on the debt reduction front for the government…

As Noel Whelan concludes in the Irish Times

Their time would be better spent implementing meaningful Seanad reform and putting in place a truly competitive and transparent appointments system to State boards.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty