Dáil’s public accounts watchdog found former Rehab chief Flannery neither full nor frank
A long and evasive path led to a situation from which there was only one way out
Frank Flannery with Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins. Photograph: Collins Courts
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Frank Flannery. Photograph: Eric Luke
Frank Flannery at a Rehab board meeting with Noreen Gildea, Padraig Lydon, Hugh Governey, and Keith Poole. Photograph: Eric Luke
Rehab is said to be preparing a “full and frank” response to questions sent to them by the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee before this week’s meeting. It still isn’t known if the team they field will include the man that the PAC is urgently trying to pin down — one Mr Full and Frank Flannery. Because, as they see it, Flannery has been neither full nor frank with them so far.
He has his own view of the matter, and of his rights where his appearance or otherwise is concerned. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and sundry Ministers have urged him to go before the committee as they have requested, but that’s Frank’s call to make. And he isn’t doing it for the moment, which is strange, given the calibre of the people asking him, although he may yet be compelled to give evidence. Then again, Full and Frank is more used to giving politicians advice than they are giving it to him.
Flannery has been in difficulty since that first PAC no-show. Yesterday afternoon, following revelations in Saturday’s Irish Times that he was paid tens of thousands by Rehab to lobby the Government he played a key role in getting elected, he resigned from the board of Rehab and quit his advisory roles in Fine Gael.
So Frank Flannery has thrown himself under the bus to save . . . well, who, exactly? Rehab, he says. He had “come to the opinion” that his membership of the board of directors is dragging the organisation into political controversy. (And not the manner in which he has dealt with a standard request from a Dáil committee, which is the opinion some might come to.) Fine Gael, say others.
The story of Full and Frank Flannery was becoming a major embarrassment to the Government, Fine Gael and, in particular, Enda Kenny. Flannery may well have been persuaded to take this course of action. We hear Kenny, in this, his bonanza month for feelgood photo opportunities, was raging with him.
Or could Frank be saving himself? He may not have to appear before the PAC now, as he isn’t a board member of Rehab anymore. Although the majority of the members aren’t going to let him away that easily. Although why Full and Frank didn’t simply appear at the committee when first asked and bluster like his former colleagues is a bit of a mystery. He could have written down on a piece of paper figures concerning his pension or the like, if he didn’t want his privacy invaded. All he did was invite further scrutiny.
Funny, but a report surfaced in January about the amounts of money paid in 2011 and 2012 to Flannery by Rehab for “consultancy” services. Which could mean anything. Except, as we found out, the service was lobbying Kenny’s Fine Gael-led government.
Full and Frank Flannery is exceedingly well-got in certain political circles. Around since the 1980s, he would also be a familiar face to the Labour Party’s veteran Ministers. He is a close personal friend of Pat Rabbitte – both are west of Ireland men and graduates of Galway University – and Rabbitte was best man at his wedding. Not that this would colour decisions made by the Minister. But it shows how Flannery is at ease in the corridors of power, where he appears to have free run.
Whispering sweet nothings into Big Phil’s ear over lunch or, as we heard on radio yesterday, a regular on the ministerial corridor where he has the chance to bump into Ministers such as Ruairí Quinn and do a quick bit of lobbying. “Informally” as Quinn put it.
“I would meet him or I would see him walking past the odd time with, usually Fine Gael, advisers and I would have greeted him.”
Then Full and Frank Flannery would, presumably, consult on a pro bono basis with his fellow FG advisers on how best to keep their crowd in power after the next election. Nothing wrong happening, of course.
Perfectly legitimate. But you have to wonder sometimes if the politicians who run this country understand how sickening this sort of stuff is to the vast, vast majority of people who aren’t well-connected and can’t even get somebody to answer the phone to them when they have a problem. Flannery is stepping down from his roles as election strategist with the party but will continue to support it in a personal capacity. Trips to Leinster House are out now.
But, doubtless, Kenny and others will be keeping in touch for the occasional bit of unofficial guidance. You see, it’s the little things, as Albert Reynolds said, that trip you up. The standard of brass-neckery among the habitués of Leinster House may be Olympian, but the sheer cheek of Frank Flannery on that Thursday afternoon two weeks ago left many politicians astonished. Here was a man known to have very strong connections with the main Government party and its leader, along with a keen sense of how best to look out for their interests. Someone with a passion for politics and a reverence for the democratic process.
A veteran strategist and adviser, a pillar of the Fine Gael party and close friend of the Taoiseach. And while the PAC was fulminating about his non-appearance, Full and Frank Flannery was nonchalantly strolling into Leinster House, going in for lunch with a Minister and chatting to people. What was he thinking? It’s all very strange.