Thursday 27 November 2014

Hogan hits out at PAC boss over Flannery

John Downing Political Correspondent

Published 12/03/2014 | 02:30

Phil Hogan and Frank Flannery in July 2012

ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan last night sharply criticised the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman John McGuinness and accused him of 'behaving politically' in his role.

Mr Hogan said he believed that the PAC had 'exceeded their remit' of policing the spending of public money in their dealings with the disability charity Rehab. He said Mr McGuinness had personalised issues by focusing on former Fine Gael director of elections Frank Flannery.

The accusation is extremely serious because of the parliamentary convention that the PAC chairman should at all times be above party politics in scrutinising the spending of taxpayers' money.

Mr McGuinness and other colleagues on the PAC have utterly rejected the accusations and said that Mr Flannery's failure to answer questions at the committee had caused the ongoing controversy.

Mr Hogan said he had studied what Mr McGuinness was saying about the former Rehab director and Fine Gael strategist Mr Flannery.

"Mr McGuinness, the chairman, has said today that it wasn't about Frank Flannery at all – that it was about Rehab. But he wasn't saying that on the local radio stations around the country yesterday. So, I have to come to the conclusion on that basis that Mr McGuinness is behaving politically," he said.

When asked about even more strident criticisms of Mr Flannery by Fine Gael Wicklow TD Simon Harris, Mr Hogan said he was not aware of those.

Mr Hogan worked on several Fine Gael campaigns with Mr Flannery, and he shares the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency with Mr McGuinness, who is a Fianna Fail TD.

He paid a glowing tribute to the work of Mr Flannery for Rehab and Fine Gael. He said Mr Flannery worked with Rehab since 1973 and was CEO for 25 years, building it into a world-class organisation.

He also paid tribute to his work for Fine Gael.

Mr Hogan said Mr Flannery would go before PAC – only if he believed a public interest issue was to be answered. He said he was not personally aware of all facts to make a judgment himself and it was for Mr Flannery, Rehab and the PAC to handle matters.

Mr Hogan added that Mr Flannery felt obliged to quit the Rehab board and his various roles with Fine Gael because the issues were becoming 'politicised' by the PAC.

"He did not want to politicise Rehab," Mr Hogan said. He said it was decided by Government that it was best for Mr Flannery to also resign as chairman of the Philanthropy Forum but that he would continue as an ordinary member of that body. Officials said the chairmanship was a voluntary post, which did not carry any remuneration.

Mr McGuinness utterly rejected accusations of bringing politics into the issue. He said he had made every effort to keep politics out of it and the problem was getting straight answers to questions.

Another PAC member, Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming, also rejected allegations of 'any kind of witch-hunt'. He said Mr Flannery and others had many questions to answer about their roles at Rehab and about potential conflicts of interest.

The PAC is expected to meet again tomorrow and consider its next move.

By then it expects to have received answers to 12 additional questions submitted to Rehab and also expects Mr Flannery to have taken delivery of a direct invitation to attend a committee hearing.

Earlier yesterday, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said it would have been better if Mr Flannery had already gone before PAC.

He said he did not believe that Mr Flannery, who he has known for many years, had done anything inappropriate.

Irish Independent

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