A month ago, all must have seemed rosy in the world of John McNulty, an unknown businessman from Kilcar in County Donegal. Recently appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art by the neophyte Minister for Culture, Heather Humphreys and then picked as Enda's preferred candidate for a vacant Senate seat, what could possibly go wrong. Well, as it turned out, almost everything.
The problem was that McNulty's credentials for his appointment to IMMA were non existent and despite protestations to the contrary, most people in the country saw it as something they were promised would not happen under Enda - stroke politics. It seems that the deal was that McNulty would sit on the board of IMMA in order to beef up his non existent bona fides for a career on the culture committee in the Seanad. The country was asked to believe that his appointment to IMMA by Humphreys followed by his shoo in election to the Seanad, backed by Enda was a complete coincidence and that neither the Minister nor the Taoiseach knew what either one was planning for McNulty.
To make the event more risible, it turned out that a member of the board of IMMA is ineligible to stand for political election, so McNulty would have to resign in order to fight the Seanad election. Which he did. Heather Humphreys. new to the Cabinet and her post, was wheeled out to explain that it was all her doing and it was outrageous to suggest that any strokery was going on and McNulty was eminently suited to sit on the board of one of the most prestigious art organisations in the country. Tame TD's, particularly Michelle Mulherin from Enda's home patch in Mayo, were dropped in front of microphones to defend King Kenny. It was one of those media car crash moments. Enda meanwhile blustered and more than a little flustered, denied opposition claims that his fingerprints were all over the mess. Looking at King Kenny you'd be hard pressed to think of him as anything other than he is - a country teacher; but apparently he's more akin to a mixture of Pol Pot and Stalin, with a whiff of Nixon thrown in.
After a series of denials, counter denials, accusations and much guffawing, an increasingly bilious Enda came out and apologised, saying that he took full responsibility, but full responsibility for what? Nobody was quite sure, so cue more mirth at Enda's, Heather's, Fine Gael's and as collateral damage, a suspiciously quiet Labour Party's, expense.
Meanwhile John McNulty, whose political aspirations were by now as dead as it is possible to be, asked the electorate, which only consists of TD's and members of the Seanad, not to vote for him. It was then revealed that there was no legal procedure for removing a candidate's name from a ballot paper. So we had the situation of a candidate, who no longer wished to be a candidate still on the ballot paper. Then some voters announced that they had already voted for him via postal vote and others said they were going to disregard his wishes and vote for him anyway. Some of this was political mischief making by Enda's opponents within the party, of which there seem to be a growing number and, his more natural opponents in Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. For a politician with the reputation as the most 'managed' in recent Irish history and who likes to be in control of all around him, events were spiralling out of control with each passing hour.
There was an increasing possibility that a man, who no longer wanted to play with the grown ups, was going to be voted into Ireland's second chamber, whether he wanted it or not. There was speculation that if he did win the election whether he would immediately resign, but McNulty himself added to the uncertainty by refusing to comment until the election was over.
Lest we forget the hapless Minister for the Arts, Heather Humphreys, was still gently blowing in the wind and refusing to name the Fine Gael officials who put John McNulty's poisoned chalice of a CV across her desk. The best she could do was to say it was an internal party matter and that was that. So, John McNulty, coming man and next big thing in Donegal politics, finds himself at the centre of a perfect political storm - the controversy that keeps giving.
In the final few days before the vote King Kenny and his princes kept saying that people should honour McNulty's request for them not to vote for him. Enda found himself in the uncomfortable position of campaigning against the man he's personally selected. As it turned out, the Irish political system came to his rescue. Because it is based on PR, people's second preferences are as important as their first, so we found ourselves in the situation where the independent candidate Gerard Craughwell, former president of the Teachers Union of Ireland and an ex British soldier, became a Senator by 4 votes over McNulty, because Sinn Fein voted for him as their second preference. Sinn Fein votes sent an ex British soldier to the Seanad. Priceless!
When the coalition came to power, Enda said that politics would be different; cronyism and parish pump politics was the fiefdom of the other lot, the stroke was yesterdays way of doing things. ''Paddy wants to know'' said Enda and he's right Paddy does want to know, but nobody's telling him, I was talking to someone the other day, a man from Wicklow, about this peculiarly Irish mess and he said it's because the Irish are incapable of ruling themselves. Under the British they spent generations fighting the system, resisting and undermining it at every turn. What they haven't appreciated it seems, decades after independence that they are now the system and the only people being harmed and discomfited by Del Boy politics are themselves.
Depending on who you listen to, it seems that progress at King Kenny's court, you have to keep your mouth shut, vote the way you're told and generally toe the line if you want any chance of getting your nose into the government trough. Others say that the coalition government is more like Kennedy's Camelot. This mess is the result of political hubris and political incompetence in equal measure. Something that shouldn't even have made page 9 of any newspaper has been the main talking point here for the past month. The best that Fine Gael could do was claim that it was more cock up than conspiracy. Every political party in Ireland has access to patronage at a local, county, national and European level, and they all use it, often shamelessly. It's another example of the political elites sense of entitlement - if it's there, it's mine whether I need it or want it - I'm entitled to it.
The only upside is that I have discovered a radio programme called Callan's Kicks, a half hour satire (most of Irish political life is beyond satire actually) that has a particularly poisonous impression of Enda, the King from the Wesht at it's heart.