Remembering Seán Flynn
Seán Flynn covered the ebb and flow of the education landscape in Ireland from his appointment as education editor in 1999 until his untimely death last week. Colleagues and friends recall the journalist, his contribution to education, and the man
Seán Flynn: was Education Editor at The Irish Times from 1999 until his untimely death last week
Seán Flynn covering education for The Irish Times in Zambia
Seán Flynn with some of his family (Jack, Stephen, Luke, Elaine and Julianne)
The front page of The Irish Times from November 11th, 1989 when Seán Flynn was reporting from East Berlin
Jim Moore of the National Parents Council photographed at the PPEF(post-primary education forum) press conference in 2008 with education correspondants Seán Flynn and Emma O’Kelly of RTE. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Seán Flynn and his wife Elaine on their wedding day
The remarkable thing about Seán Flynn was that in each successive phase of his career he grew in stature, in his judgment and in his analytical capacities.
He covered three of the most difficult and contentious areas of news, developing further in each one and building a reputation for accuracy, honesty and absolute integrity.
His first specialisation was crime and security.
It was at the time a largely undeveloped area but he succeeded in building confidences and trust with security personnel who hitherto would never have dreamed of speaking with a journalist.
He carried the same qualities into Europe when he was promoted to Brussels. In an environment characterised by intrigue, bluff and diplomatic manipulation he came to be trusted and confided in even by those with whose agenda he clearly disagreed.
It was his judgment, his ability to see through the self-serving officialese and his energy that saw him promoted and returned to Dublin as assistant editor. He was a wise counsellor with a mind that was as generous as it was sharp.
His work as a member of the editor’s policy team or “think tank” was an important element in building and maintaining the newspaper’s reputation for authority and fairness.
He was, moreover, blessed with an enormous sense of humanity and good humour. He needed it in his later incorporation as education editor. But even here, in another area, noted often for high political intrigue and controversy, he earned trust across the board and made many firm friends.
– Conor Brady is former editor of The Irish Times
‘God the league tables again. Dreadful things. Awful. Dreadful. Has Trinity come through?” This refrain started around September and continued until the end of November when the tables were finally published. Afterwards, you’d get the smile and the mischievous glint in the eye with a, “It’s a bit of craic all the same isn’t it?”
By that stage the tables had become an annual event but remember that when, in 2002, Seán got his hands on the raw information about which schools sent students to college, its publication was a complete game changer.
Irish education has many positive attributes but transparency is not one of them. Finally, parents had some concrete information about how their school was doing compared to others in their area. They loved it. The educational establishment did not. There was an awful lot of giving out and the craic ensued.
He loved ruffling a few feathers did Seán, and the school league tables were an event that reliably ruffled many, year in, year out. It takes a particular talent to be presented with pages and pages (that’s what they were in the beginning, paper, pages, lots of them) of figures and to know exactly how to present them in a meaningful way to readers. That’s what Seán did.
Don’t get me wrong, we all know the tables are flawed, but Seán firmly believed some information is better than none. He credited parents with the intelligence to know the difference between challenges faced by schools in deprived areas and those in wealthier places. The bump in circulation for the tables was testament to the thirst for knowledge, any knowledge, about how our schools are doing.
Seán was relentless in his pursuit of transparency in education. When true college progression figures become available (because they will, eventually) parents will have him to thank.
As for the school league tables, well, they will continue. Just without Seán’s infectious, infuriating, concentrated, funny and ridiculously energetic presence overseeing it all. It won’t be the same. We’ll miss him so much.
– Gráinne Faller, education writer, The Irish Times
Seán Flynn was the most competitive journalist I ever came across. He hated to miss a big news story to a rival. He loved to write stories nobody else got, but he never crowed about it. And he got quite a few exclusives as education editor of The Irish Times.