Tuesday, 7 October 2014
Appointments to State Boards
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important issue because it is has not been dealt with properly or appropriately over the past couple of weeks in terms of accountability to the people and accountability to the Oireachtas.
Let us quickly and briefly go over what happened in the so-called McNulty affair. On 12 September Mr. John McNulty was appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. On 17 September, five days later, Mr. McNulty was announced as the Fine Gael candidate in the Seanad by-election. The nomination form, which had his name and address and his description as a board member of IMMA, was signed by An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny.
On 21 September an Independent candidate, Mr. Gerard Craughwell, objected to Mr. McNulty's candidacy but apparently withdrew his objection when he saw that Mr. McNulty was a member of the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Subsequently, there was political controversy which resulted in Mr. McNulty's withdrawal as a candidate. He withdrew to forestall a legal challenge by other candidates, because there was talk of legal advice being sought and legal challenges being made. I contend that the withdrawal of Mr. McNulty at that time was planned as a diversion to forestall a legal challenge, which seems, effectively, to have been what happened.
I accept that.
Mr. Michael McDowell, in the Sunday Independent, wrote:
The cover-up and brazen peddling of lies to the public that we have witnessed even since the Taoiseach apologised and pretended to take personal responsibility for the affair shows that the interests of the Fine Gael party comes ... before ... political accountability and the maintenance of public confidence in the politics of this State.My leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, suggested - correctly, I think - that, as the Taoiseach accepted responsibility and the Minister accepted responsibility, the story was unravelling as it got made up.
There are questions that the Minister present should answer before this House, and should have answered before now. She is probably aware of them. Who in Fine Gael instructed the Minister to appoint Mr. McNulty to IMMA? What was the reason given by this anonymous official for advocating the appointment? What authority did the official cite in requesting the appointment from a Minister of the Government? Did he or she mention the Taoiseach or a Seanad campaign, or did the person simply state that he or she was acting on his or her own initiative due to Mr. McNulty's interest in being appointed to, in the Minister's own words, "an arts board"? Were written records kept of this interaction with the Fine Gael official? Was the Minister aware, or was she notified by her officials, that the appointments breached current Government policy on board size? If so, why did she override them? Why was a particular decision apparently made to increase the number of board members of IMMA? Was the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform notified, as it should have been?
Did the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht personally contact Mr. McNulty before the appointment? Was she acquainted with Mr. McNulty before the appointment? Why did Mr. McNulty accept the appointment knowing, first, that he would have to resign from the board in the event of his election to the Seanad and, second, that - as should have been known to the Department at least, and to the Minister's advisers - he would have had to resign even as a candidate? It should have been known that he was not validly appointed and really could not be a member of the board as a candidate.
Did the Taoiseach, to the Minister's knowledge, instruct Fine Gael headquarters to appoint Mr. McNulty? The Taoiseach claims he did not know Mr. McNulty was on the board of IMMA, so why did he state that Mr. McNulty was on the board of IMMA on the nomination papers for the Seanad by-election? Did the Taoiseach ask the Minister to say nothing over the past couple of weeks? There seems to have been a deliberate policy not to answer questions on this subject. Can she state whether she voted for Mr. McNulty in the Seanad by-election?
I am happy to appear before the House again this evening to address matters concerning the appointment of Mr. John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.
As I have previously outlined, I appointed Mr. McNulty and Ms Sheila O'Regan to the board of IMMA on Friday, 12 September 2014. I made the appointments while being particularly conscious of the balance of talent, experience and skills among board members, as well as regional balance. Both Mr. McNulty and Ms O'Regan were appointed based on merit.
Senator Byrne has asked me to outline the circumstances behind the appointment of Mr. McNulty in particular. As I stated last week, Fine Gael party officials made me aware of John McNulty's interest in serving on a board under my remit. I looked at his experience in business, culture and promoting the Irish language and I made the decision that he could make a positive contribution to the board of IMMA. I stand over that decision.
There has been considerable focus - the Senator has mentioned it here this evening - on the Fine Gael official involved. I do not see any benefit in making a scapegoat out of a party official by putting his or her name into the public domain. The Taoiseach has taken full responsibility for this matter.
What is most important is that the system of public appointments is being reformed. The Taoiseach has outlined the system of public appointments that is being reformed and has accepted that this entire matter could have been handled better. I accept that it would have been preferable to use the public appointments process. While I stand over the appointments I have made to date, I am fully committed to using the public appointments process in the future in line with the new Government guidelines.
There have been some suggestions from members of the Senator's party that I breached the size limit for the IMMA board by making the two appointments.
According to the memorandum and articles of association of IMMA, the current limit in respect of the board is 15 members. I moved to make two appointments as I believed the two candidates could make a valuable contribution and improve regional representation. As I was advised by my Department that there were six vacancies on the IMMA board, there was no impediment to me making the appointments. As part of the Government's plans for reform, it is intended to reduce the size of a number of boards under my remit on a permanent basis. Legislation is needed to give statutory effect to this change and it is expected that this legislation will be published in late 2015. Heads of Bills are currently with the relevant committee for consideration.
Since making the appointments, I have met with the chair of the board of IMMA and committed to working more closely with him to identify the skills needed on the board. Indeed, I look forward to doing this with the chairs of all our cultural institutions as part of the Government's new appointments procedures. I will write formally to all chairs to ask them to outline the skills sets that best suits their relevant boards.
As usual, I ask the Minister to answer the questions I asked. She has failed to answer the questions yet again. That is a travesty of democracy. I want it to be clear that we are not trying to make a scapegoat of any Fine Gael official. It is the Taoiseach and the Minister who are making a scapegoat of an unnamed Fine Gael official. Deputy Humphreys is the Minister and Deputy Kenny is the Taoiseach. They are responsible for this mess, not anyone else. We are trying to get to the bottom of what went on, which is why we need to know who it was before we consider anything else. The Minister has muddied the waters further by referring to officials in the printed text of her speech. Was it one official or more from Fine Gael headquarters asking the Minister to put this person on the board?
The Minister stated that the memorandum and articles of IMMA require 15 members. Her Government announced previously that there would be only nine in future and it was open to her to stick to that. She deliberately overrode her Government's policy to have only nine members on such boards, regardless of what IMMA says. I put it to the Minister that these questions have not been sufficiently answered. She has a chance to answer them now.
Will the matter be taken up in the committee dealing with the arts or in the Dáil? The Minister is running out of time. These are serious questions and very serious allegations and accusations were made about the Minister in the Sunday Independentlast Sunday, some of which I have read into the record. I wanted to ask the Minister a number of questions before my party made assessments along those lines, but the Minister is not helping the situation. We will not scapegoat anyone, but we want answers. Did the Minister vote in the Seanad election and, if so, did she vote for Mr. McNulty?
The great thing about this country is that it is a democracy and when one votes, one does so in secret. That is the way it will stay.
I am responsible for appointments to the board, which function I carried out based on merit. That is what I am responsible for. I have listened closely and taken the criticisms on board over the last two weeks in relation to board appointments. I acknowledge that this should have been done differently. I have already moved to put a new system in place in my Department and I will follow those procedures. It was out of respect for the House that I came here two weeks ago at very short notice. I was maybe lacking on that occasion, for which I apologise.