Fine Gael’s John McNulty (top) and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham, Dublin
Further to the appointment (and resignation) of John McNulty of Fine Gael to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art to apparently bulk up his CV before being nominated for the senate.
This is not just classic cronyism, argues former IMMA board member Eamon Delaney, but a powerful demonstration of Fine Gael’s ‘commitment’ the arts.
“At a time when our cultural institutions need all the help and expertise they can get, McNulty is quite clearly not a suitable candidate. I speak with some authority here, as I was on the board of IMMA myself for many years. And from my own time, it was clear that the board was crying out for persons with a background in the visual arts, which this man doesn’t have. His appointment is pure politics and cronyism.
[Arts] Minister [Heather] Humphreys defended his appointment by saying that McNulty was ‘a self-employed businessman who brings 15 years’ business experience to the IMMA board. He is involved in the local Tourism and Cultural committee in Kilcar, Co Donegal, and has a track record in promoting culture, heritage, the GAA and the Irish language.” She added, robotically, that ‘he has been involved in heritage restoration project, and festivals such as the Fleadh Ceol, and was currently driving a three-year Irish language development plan for the area.’
But these are not the qualities needed for a modern art museum. Indeed, they could describe any ambitious local politician. IMMA is a cutting-edge national gallery, tracking international trends in avant-garde contemporary visual art. It does a valiant job in this, in the face of an often indifferent public, and with little resources. In all of these efforts, the board needs to strongly support the Chairman and director.
In my own time, the IMMA board acted as such and was strengthened by the inclusion of persons such as the art historian Dr Eimear O’Connor, sculptor Rowan Gillespie and Mary McCarthy of the National Sculpture Factory in Cork. We also had board members with a strong business or public sector experience, such as Julie O’Neill, now on the board of Ryanair. But these were senior business and corporate figures, not a local FG politician with a small business background.
…There are so many depressing aspects to the McNulty ‘double appointment’. It shows the casual, almost derisive treatment of arts institutions and especially visual arts institutions, by the political culture. When I was on the IMMA board, we tried to fight a pointless forced merger of IMMA with the National Gallery but we got little support from the philistines down in the Dail or Senate.
In this regard, Fine Gael is actually the worst offender. Fianna Fail has at least shown strong support for the arts over the years, especially (but not only) under Charlie Haughey who founded the artist’s body, Aosdana, and introduced tax exemption for artists. By contrast, Fine Gael, perhaps of its austere historic and social background, has usually shown little interest in cultural matters. And this is typified now by Enda Kenny’s bone-headed appointment of a local politician and Seanad candidate to the board of our modern art museum!
But the wider picture here is of a political system that is still about perks, cronyism and a scrambling for personal and political ambition. And if this means that they have to ride roughshod over our esteemed cultural institutions then so be it. Nothing has changed.