Friday 20 October 2017

Fianna Fail forced out colourful senator before his conviction

Francie O'Brien: speculator
Francie O'Brien: speculator

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FIANNA Fail forced former Fianna Fail Senator Francie O'Brien to resign from the party before he was convicted of attempted extortion.

The Monaghan-born politician (70) was jailed this week for three years for his role in attempting to extort €100,000 from a Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector in what was described by a judge as "an abominable scheme".

Fianna Fail has confirmed that O'Brien resigned as a member of the party – which he had joined at the age of 12 – around a year ago.

But the Irish Independent has learned that this came after he received a phone call from a senior party figure while he was under investigation by the gardai. A Fianna Fail source said that O'Brien was told that his alleged behaviour would not be tolerated.

"The message was, 'It's up to yourself – will you resign or be forced out?" the source said.

O'Brien resigned shortly afterwards, with another party source saying he had been very disappointed with the approach of party leader Micheal Martin. A Fianna Fail spokesman said the party would not be commenting on the detail of the events leading up to O'Brien's resignation.

O'Brien is currently being held in Castlerea Prison in Roscommon and has been given the right to one six-minute phone call per day, which he is using to contact his family. A source said he was hoping to eventually get transferred to Loughan House open prison in Cavan, which is closer to his family home in Lattan in Monaghan.

It marks a sorry end to a controversial political career, which involved All-Ireland tickets, pens and property speculation.

O'Brien had a legendary reputation among his colleagues for managing to procure up to 100 All-Ireland hurling or football tickets every year. He used to dispense these to county and city councillors – whom he depended on to vote him back into the Seanad.

He used to buy them rounds of drink at conferences.

He sent councillors birthday cards and Christmas cards, attended the funerals of their parents and sent them high-quality pens with his name on them.

"He minded county councillors beyond belief," said one Fianna Fail TD.

His key focus when he was in the Seanad was staying there – rather than devoting time to debating and proposing changes to legislation.

"He regarded it as an honour to be there and there was nobody going to take it from him," a source said.

Back in Monaghan, O'Brien was known for his huge interest in the Monaghan football team but also for being involved in arguments over payments for cattle, fertiliser and bar bills.

He became involved in property speculation when he bought land in Scotstown in Monaghan in the early 2000s. A source said that he had made a decent profit from the houses but then ploughed on in the hope of making even more money. He ended up owning 10 development sites and six rental properties around the country.

DISASTROUS

One of his most disastrous decisions was to buy a 17-acre field outside Inniskeen – the birthplace of Patrick Kavanagh – in Monaghan in 2006. Irish Nationwide's then chief executive Michael Fingleton approved a €4.47m loan for the field even though O'Brien was in his late 60s at the time and had declared his €65,000 Seanad salary as his sole source of income.

O'Brien had hoped to make a windfall through rezoning the land for housing but councillors voted the rezoning plan down, following a local campaign of opposition.

The land has never been developed.

The Commerical Court was told three years ago that O'Brien owed around €13m due to various borrowings – but had assets of just €430,000.

His son, John O'Brien, is a member of Monaghan County Council but Fianna Fail sources say that he will not be running again in the local elections next May.

John O'Brien could not be contacted for comment.

Irish Independent

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