Profile: Who is Frank Flannery?

‘I am bad enough of a bastard and tough enough to make really unpopular decisions’

A file photo from 2008 showing Frank Flannery (right) with the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

A file photo from 2008 showing Frank Flannery (right) with the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Few people have had such an influence on Fine Gael in the last three and a half decades as Frank Flannery.

The former rehab chief executive was one of Garret Fitzgerald’s “national handlers” in the 1980s when the party went toe-to-toe with Charlie Haughey’s Fianna Fáil.

Thirty years later, he was still at the centre of Fine Gael politics.

When the first coming of Michael Noonan ended in disaster for the party in 2002, it was Flannery to whom the new leader Enda Kenny called on to help rebuild the party.

He produced the Flannery Report, a blueprint for the party’s recovery. It was Kenny’s roadmap to power.

While Kenny traversed the country firing up a dejected base, Flannery applied his political nous to identifying and promoting candidates that could win seats for Fine Gael, and drawing up a political and organisational strategy that would help them get elected.

He was tough, and ruthless when he had to be.

New blood was brought in, old hands pushed aside. “I am bad enough of a bastard and tough enough to make really unpopular decisions,” Flannery later said of himself.

Facing the might of Bertie Ahern’s Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael under Kenny and Flannery’s direction became a sort of mirror image of their great rivals - populist, nimble, pragmatic.

By 2007, the organisation was rejuvenated and challenging for government. Mercifully for Fine Gael, it lost.

He fell out with Kenny in 2009 over suggestions that Fine Gael could “do business” with Sinn Féin, but was back as a key part of the political operation before the 2011 general election.

Once Fine Gael took power, however, he found himself frozen out from Kenny’s Taoiseach’s Office, and he felt sore about it.

He remained a familiar figure around Leinster House and in political circles, however, and he was an increasing presence in the media.

His availability as a media pundit did not endear him to Government Buildings, and when the Rehab controversy broke in 2014, Fine Gael distanced itself from him rapidly.

It was revealed that after resigning as chief executive of the charity in 2006, he was paid by the charity for consultancy work and also to lobby the Government. For the latter period, he had enjoyed walk-in access to Fine Gael Ministers’ offices. He refused to attend a Dáil committee to discuss his work, his salary, or his pension.

Under pressure, he stepped down as an adviser and also as a trustee of the party.

There were constant suggestions that he was about to return to the fold in advance of the general election, but it never happened.

Flannery would hardly be human if he did not feel some sense of schadenfreude at the party’s disastrous election result.

Recently he was quoted by a Sunday newspaper saying that the Fine Gael leadership had to make way for a new generation.

His media profile has remained high, offering expert commentary to RTÉ during the recent campaign.

In a pre-Christmas interview, he described himself as a “kind of wise observer” of Irish politics. He was confident Fine Gael would be returned to office, perhaps with an overall majority.

“This election will give a comfortable majority for the Government. I not only think it, I know it,” he told a reporter.