Flannery steps down from philanthropy body

Noonan and Gilmore say ex-FG strategist has questions to answer at Public Accounts Committee

 Rehab director Frank Flannery

Rehab director Frank Flannery

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 17:09

Former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery has resigned as chairman of the Government’s Forum on Philanthropy, the Tánaiste told the Dáil this afternoon.

“It is my understanding that he is stepping down from that position,’’ said Eamon Gilmore.

Mr Gilmore also repeated his call on Mr Flannery to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). He said he had already called on Mr Flannery, a former chief executive and director of Rehab, to come before the committee to answer questions about his pension and fees paid for lobbying.

Pressure on Mr Flannery to appear before the PAC have intensified since The Irish Times disclosed on Saturday that he had been paid thousands by Rehab to lobby the Government.

Mr Gilmore said that he had seen the letter from the committee’s clerk asking that Mr Flannery should appear before it. “I believe that all of those the committee wish to interview should appear before the committee,’’ he added.

Mr Gilmore was responding to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who said that the Rehab organisation had been asked by the PAC to answer very important questions relating to salaries and pensions and a range of other issues. “I think we all agree that is in the public interest,’’ he added. He said that Rehab had received more than €80 million of funding from the taxpayer.

“There has been an unacceptable degree of prevarication and delay by the Rehab organisation in its dealings with the PAC,’’ he added.

Mr Martin said people were surprised and taken aback by Mr Flannery’s refusal, as a former chief executive, to appear before the committee. Mr Flannery, he said, was a strategic adviser to the Taoiseach and his “right-hand man on many fronts who would know really the importance of the Oireachtas and of committees like the PAC and has not gone forward to answer questions which remain unanswered’’.

He added that Mr Flannery was in Leinster House on the day that the PAC was meeting with representatives of Rehab.

Mr Martin said that articles in The Irish Times had revealed that Rehab was paying Mr Flannery to lobby Fine Gael and Labour Ministers.

Speaking in Brussels as he left a meeting of finance minister, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan confirmed he had been lobbied by Mr Flannery. “Yes, in his capacity as chairman of the Philanthropic forum, he had a proposal which connected contributions to the charity to residency. He came in on a delegation, into Finance and we took a copy of the proposal, but I sent it to the Finance Committee, and the Finance Committee had a full hearing on it and brought out a report.”

Mr Noonan said it was “fully transparent.”

“Actually the Finance Committee recommended that we would accept it, but when I looked at it myself I didn’t do anything in the Finance Bill to introduce it.”

Asked if it was appropriate for Mr Flannery to be lobbying the Government given his position, the Minister said: “Sure there’s people lobbying all the time. He was appointed to be chairman of the Philanthropic Forum. Now that’s under the ambit of the Department of the Environment and it was put in place as an organisation around 2005 and it represents charities so on what grounds would I refuse to meet him”

“You need people to participate, you need people to work on boards,” Mr Noonan said. “He was doing pro-bono work for a charity when he was talking to me.

“What’s wrong with somebody coming to me before a budget...? I meet the IFA, I meet the ICMSA... I never ask them their politics when they come in... what they call it actually is democracy. You talk to the people before you legislate. You talk to the representative groups.

“I think when Ministers meet people who’s politics are known, whatever party they’re in, they should ensure that they meet them with an official present and that notes are taken. Then everything is above board,” Mr Noonan added.

He said Mr Flannery should attend the Public Accounts Committee. “Absolutely. There’s questions to be answered. If the PAC look for him he should attend.”