Enda Kenny has declared himself “man enough” to admit his mistakes and move on after coming under pressure over his latest gaffe in the final days of the general election campaign.
Opponents seized on the Taoiseach’s apparent admission in a live television debate that he personally appointed a Fine Gael supporter to a State board a year and a half ago.
Donegal businessman John McNulty’s elevation to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, effectively allowing him to run for a Seanad seat, sparked a major cronyism row.
Fianna Fail said Mr Kenny’s admission on the live leaders’ debate – which he later appeared to retract – was the second time this week he was forced to change his story after his “handlers had got to him”.
Barry Cowen, Fianna Fail’s environment spokesman, said: “I think during the course of the debate, we seen for the first time that he told the truth on the matter by virtue of the fact that it was he that appointed (Mr McNulty) to the board.
“Then again by the time he had got to the back door the handlers had got to him and his story had changed.”
Mr Cowen said the Taoiseach “had form” in having to backtrack during the campaign, referring to Mr Kenny’s remarks about “whingers” in his own constituency of Mayo earlier in the week.
On the second last day of campaigning, Mr Kenny brushed off suggestions he is gaffe-prone, by claiming it was a defining characteristic of his leadership that he could admit his mistakes.
“I make mistakes, but I’m man enough to acknowledge and accept responsibility for all these things,” he said, during his party’s final press conference before the poll.
“I think the hallmark of leadership is how you move on from issues that arise.”
But Renua leader Lucinda Creighton accused Mr Kenny of having contradicted everything he said about the McNulty affair when questioned about it at the time in the Dail.
“The extraordinary thing is, we would have a head of government who would go into the Dail chamber and claim that black is white,” she added.
Gerry Adams, who pointed out the admission during the leaders’ debate, claimed it was a stark reminder of a “golden circle” politics waged by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
The Sinn Fein leader said both parties have been appointing “their cronies and friends to positions of influence in the State for decades”.
He said: “Despite promising a democratic revolution, (Enda Kenny) has kept Fianna Fail’s legacy of cronyism and that culture of corruption and political patronage alive and well.”
“There are two Irelands out there – one for the privileged and one for the rest of us.”