Flannery emerges as Fine Gael’s top pro Bono man

If Frank wants to do a spot of lobbying, he’ll have to do it from beyond Leinster House

Frank had great contacts and roaming rights  in Leinster House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Frank had great contacts and roaming rights in Leinster House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins


A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Enda tripped over some petunias in an incident which became known as Flowerpotgate. That was the summer of 2012.

The Taoiseach’s near-tumble outside the National Library sparked an ill-tempered tangle between his minders and the media and quite overshadowed the big event taking place inside.

It was the launch of the report of the Forum on Philanthropy. And there, front and centre with a post-petunia Enda and Big Phil Hogan was one Frank Flannery, non-executive chairman of the aforementioned forum and all round Fine Gael bigwig.

His was not a paid position. Flannery, with his “extensive knowledge and experience of the not-for-profit sector” was giving his services for free.

Pro Bono, we believe is the term used to describe this sort of selfless public service. Giving a little something back to the nation. But then, as last week’s European People’s Party jamboree in Dublin so finely demonstrated, Fine Gael has staked its claim as Ireland’s leading pro Bono political party.

Loud word
We don’t know if Frank, in his role of forum chairman, managed to sign up the mega-rich Mr Bono for philanthropic purposes. Perhaps he managed to lobby Enda to have a loud word in the ear of his rock-star pal.

One of the aims of Frank’s organisation is to try and change the tax climate for very wealthy people like Mr Bono so they can lob some money at the charitable sector. To achieve this, they would have to schmooze those powerful people who set the tax rates, aka the Government. If only they could find somebody to do that for them.

Anyway, here’s Frank, who, as loyal member of Fine Gael, is a pro Bono man. But that doesn’t rule out nice legitimate little earners along the way.

The Fine Gael strategist was contracted by one of the charitable bodies involved in the forum to work towards advancing their cause of philanthropic giving. The timing couldn’t have been better, as the new coalition had been formed the previous year and one of the first things Phil Hogan did in office was revive the forum and appoint Frank Flannery as its chair.

Frank, a man with more roles than Kenneth Brannagh at this stage, was set to take on another. A year later, in 2012, he became Frank Flannery PI.

No, not a private investigator, but a paid-consultant to Philanthropy Ireland. (Yes, these things are always very complicated.)

What isn’t though, is the fact that he was on €60,000 a year – paid from the funds of donor organisations – to add to his tasty lobbying sideline for the Rehab Group, having retired from that organisation after a long stint as chief executive.

His clients had decided “a concentrated effort” was needed to ensure “the maximum impetus was created behind the implementation” of their report, the launch of which Enda was attending when he fell over the flowerpot.

And who better placed than Frank to help them out, with his great contacts and roaming rights to the ministerial corridor in Leinster House?

The board of Philanthropy Ireland further believed that the then Fine Gael handler’s aforementioned “extensive experience and knowledge of the not-for-profit sector” was something which, among other qualities, “uniquely positioned him” to help drive the implementation of the forum report.

In terms of unique positions, they didn’t come much better than Frank’s, given his closeness to the Taoiseach and many of his Ministers, not to mention Fine Gael.

Shedding roles
No better man to help in “creating the structures to support a Social Innovation fund which will stimulate private philanthropy to support protection of our most vulnerable people through a focus on harnessing the power of Ireland’s social innovations”.

Sixty grand well spent on top of all the pro Bono stuff.

Sadly, since the controversy involving less than full and frank Flannery’s seeming reluctance to appear before the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, he has been shedding his many roles at a terrific rate.

Enda has dropped his national election strategist like a tonne of bricks.

He has stepped down from the board of Rehab. He has given up his advisory positions at the heart of Fine Gael and yesterday, Frank bowed out as chairman of the Forum on Philanthropy.

That will have answered Mícheál Martin’s questions in the Dáil, when he wondered if the FG grandee should remain as the figurehead of Big Phil’s philanthropy body. He also asked the Tánaiste, standing in for Enda, if charitable organisations should be paying people to lobby ministers. Mícheál got the formula reply: Fianna Fáil have a cheek asking about the role of lobbyists with their track record in that department.

And to crown a miserable few days for the former strategist extraordinaire, Fine Gael relieved him of his Dáil pass. Now, if Frank wants to do a spot of lobbying, he’ll have to do it from outside the gates of Leinster House, where the little people gather to protest out of earshot of the powerful people who populate the ministerial corridor.

They would not be what the people consulting Frank Flannery call “uniquely placed”.

Still. At least they enjoy the odd sing-song when protesting outside in the cold.

Do you want yer old lobbyist washed down . . .

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