Wednesday 26 November 2014

FG adviser to quit Rehab board as Enda Kenny seethes

€150,000 salaries paid to charity's senior executives revealed

John Downing, Daniel McConnell and Fionnan Sheahan

Published 10/03/2014 | 02:30

Rehab director Frank Flannery at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Rehab director Frank Flannery at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

EMBATTLED Rehab director Frank Flannery is poised to quit the board of the charity in an effort to reduce pressure on the organisation.

Mr Flannery's dual role on the board and as a Fine Gael strategist is putting huge pressure on both the charity and the party, amid the ongoing controversy over salaries at Rehab.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is understood to be "seething" with Mr Flannery over his handling of the Rehab affair. It comes as salary payments of up to €150,000 to senior executives at Rehab are revealed for the first time.

Two of the leading lieutenants of Rehab chief executive Angela Kerins – Laura Keane and Marie Kelly – are earning the six-figure sum, a portion of which is being paid by the taxpayer through the HSE.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been seeking clarity on Mr Flannery's pension arrangements, as well as salaries of senior staff at Rehab, since Ms Kerins's controversial appearance almost two weeks ago.

One well-placed Rehab source said Mr Flannery himself believes that the ongoing controversy has impeded the charity in its work and also risked embroiling it in unwanted party political conflict.

"Purely in the interests of Rehab, in which he worked for over 32 years, he is likely to withdraw from the board," the source said.

Mr Flannery's future as director of elections for Fine Gael is also uncertain after it emerged he was paid to lobby the Government on behalf of Rehab.

Last night, Mr Flannery said he and Mr Kenny had already "had a chat" about all these matters – but he added that their discussions were private.

The former Rehab chief executive said all his work for Fine Gael was voluntary and he did not take a penny in expenses. He also insisted he has not received any direct communication from PAC requesting his attendance at its hearings.

Mr Flannery said he was very unhappy with the way Rehab has been treated and he insisted that PAC was exceeding its legal remit. But Mr Flannery's future with Fine Gael remains hanging in the balance and much depends on the fallout from the controversy.

RECOVERY

Fine Gael was last night refusing to fully back Mr Flannery and a party spokesman merely said: "Let's see what happens."

A spokesman for the Taoiseach also said he was "unambiguous" in his statement that he thinks Mr Flannery should appear before PAC.

Mr Flannery has been a key figure in Fine Gael under Mr Kenny and drafted the leader's recovery plan following the 2002 general election meltdown.

But senior Fine Gael ministers say there has been a cooling in the relationship since Mr Kenny became Taoiseach.

"The boss is not at all happy with him. He is absolutely seething," a Fine Gael minister said.

Mr Flannery's influence remains on the party strategy side, rather than on government policy. However, he is a member of the Fine Gael strategy committee for the local elections. Party sources say his future role depends on the level of bad publicity in the media over his dual activities between Rehab and Fine Gael.

"The communication there in recent years would not have been the strongest. The relationship is not nearly as good as it was four or five years ago," a minister said.

Pressure was also being applied yesterday from the Labour Party, with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Social Protection Minister Joan Burton (pictured) both saying Mr Flannery should go before the committee.

Ms Burton added that Ireland has a "long and valuable tradition" of charities being involved in services, and said she believed the whole charity sector needed to be examined so the public could know where their money was going.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, meanwhile, said he was "very surprised" that Mr Flannery was paid by Rehab to lobby the Government.

"I just don't think it's appropriate, personally speaking, that people should have to be paid to lobby governments or [that] groups like Rehab . . . see it as necessary to lobby government ministers or to pay people for lobbying government ministers. I think that's unnecessary and I was very surprised at that."

He added: "I think Frank should go before the PAC. If he's been asked to go before it then he should go before it.

ACCOUNTABILITY

"Rehab does secure a lot of taxpayers' money in terms of the services that they provide to people with special needs and disabilities and therefore that's the basis of the necessity for public accountability."

Mr Flannery said Rehab chose its own team to go before a hearing last week in response to PAC communications. Rehab belatedly received another PAC request to include other people but by then its arrangements had been made.

He said Rehab was forwarding answers to further questions tomorrow or Wednesday and he would await that process to decide whether he would attend in due course.

Irish Independent

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