Reasons Flannery moved so quickly becoming clear

Was there a conflict of interest between role as chair of Forum on Philanthropy and role as a lobbyist?

Frank Flannery: was paid  €60,000 per annum by an organisation called Philanthropy Ireland.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Frank Flannery: was paid €60,000 per annum by an organisation called Philanthropy Ireland. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


As this morning’s media reports show, it is now becoming clear why Frank Flannery moved so precipitately to sever his links with Fine Gael, or was made do so.

The Irish Times reports Flannery was paid some €60,000 per annum by an organisation called Philanthropy Ireland to help implement its plan to encourage high net worth individuals (rich people in other words) to give to good causes.

It included four tax reform proposals.

That, in itself, is not unusual. What makes it highly unusual and highly questionable is that Flannery was also appointed to chair a body established by Government called the Forum on Philanthropy.

Its job was to help encourage and foster a culture of philanthropy in Ireland, especially after the Atlantic Philanthropy Funds (which have put several billion euros into the Irish economy) have run their course.

Yesterday in Brussels Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said Flannery was doing “pro-bono work for a charity when he was talking to me”.

The fact of the matter was that he wasn’t, unless you are being extraordinarily Jesuitical and separate out the Government-appointed forum and Philanthropy Ireland which is backed by Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies and also by Declan Ryan’s One Foundation.

One of the main proposals put forward by the Forum was a suggestion that tax exiles be given extra days of residency in Ireland in return for large contributions to charitable causes.

The proposal was ultimately rejected by the Department of Finance on perception issues, but Noonan thought the idea had its attractions at first and referred it to the Oireachtas Committee on Finance.

It’s one thing for the suggestion to come from a pro bono Forum.

But when the chair of that forum is getting paid €60,000 per annum to lobby on behalf of one of that forum’s participants, it leads to a number of uncomfortable questions.

Did Flannery declare that he was engaged to lobby for Philanthropy Ireland and were Noonan and the Government aware of that?

And was there a conflict of interest between his role as the disinterested and objective chair of the Forum and his role as a lobbyist for Philanthropy Ireland, which was keen to see particular - and favourable - tax measures implemented by Government?

And how much did the recommendations of the Forum and those of the Philanthropy Ireland converge?

These are all questions that need to be tackled.

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