Setback for Kenny as key FG adviser quits
Flannery claims he wasn't forced out in Rehab row
Published 11/03/2014 | 02:30
FINE Gael has suffered a major setback with the departure of key strategist Frank Flannery, just over 10 weeks from polling day in the local and European elections.
The long-time adviser to Taois- each Enda Kenny confirmed his departure from Rehab, as well as his role with Fine Gael, amid the ongoing fallout about salaries at the charity.
But Mr Flannery insisted the Taoiseach did not pressurise him into resigning from both roles, and said that he made the decision to quit without pressure from any member of Government.
"It was my own judgment, based on my own strategic assessment of things," he said.
Mr Flannery quit as a director of Rehab and as a trustee and director of elections for Fine Gael following weeks of controversy amid calls for him to answer questions before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
While some party figures played down the significance of his departure, Mr Flannery is a crucial political player who has long been credited with helping restore the fortunes of Fine Gael.
But despite his dramatic resignations, Mr Flannery has still refused to give any guarantees that he will attend a PAC hearing into funding and spending on pay, pensions and other matters at the disability charity.
"I will have to await the outcome of the committee's response to further information given it by Rehab. I'll then decide on that basis. I have made no decision either way," he told the Irish Independent.
Mr Flannery also said he had received no direct communication Continued on Page 4
telling him to come before PAC. This was confirmed by PAC chairman John McGuinness, who said a letter to Mr Flannery was only sent from Leinster House yesterday.
"Mr Flannery was asked to appear, as were others via chief executive Angela Kerins.
"I am not entirely clear whether this message was relayed. I asked that of Ms Kerins, but could not get an answer," Mr McGuinness said.
The PAC chairman stressed that Mr Flanagan should attend a future hearing – a view strongly echoed by other members including Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fail's Sean Fleming.
The committee wants to discuss reports that Mr Flannery was paid by Rehab to lobby government on its behalf. It also wants to examine his role in fixing Rehab pay and pensions and his links to a firm, Complete Eco Solutions, which did business with Rehab.
Mr Flannery said he would not discuss his salary or pension from Rehab as it was eight years since he retired. He stood by his view that these matters were private.
And he said he would continue to work for Fine Gael as an ordinary party member – arguing that some of his most important work was done without being formally given a senior party appointment.
"Those job titles mean nothing. I wrote the Flannery Report (a 2002 party recovery plan) as an ordinary member," he added.
Last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny publicly repeated his call for his long-time friend to attend the PAC and co-operate with its inquiries. "He should co-operate with that committee, as everybody else should as well," Mr Kenny said.
Mr Kenny also said he regretted Mr Flannery's departure and paid tribute to his years of work for the party going back to the 1980s and Garret FitzGerald's leadership.
He said it was the right decision in the interests of the many years of work he had done both for Rehab and Fine Gael. "This is not the way you expect things to be," Mr Kenny said, adding that the decision was "a strong one" which he respected.
Mr Flannery said he was quitting the party and Rehab roles because he had become the subject of damaging political controversy.
He repeated criticisms of PAC's inquiries into Rehab and other organisations, arguing it politicised its inquiries and exceeded its brief.
Mr McGuinness, a Fianna Fail TD, rejected these allegations, saying all decisions on investigations were unanimous and supported by Fine Gael members. He said he had no wish to have controversy and would prefer quiet co-operation to get the job done.
"We are not bringing politics into the PAC. We are trying simply to get straight answers to questions," Mr McGuinness said.
A statement from Rehab last night confirmed it had received the resignation of Mr Flannery as a board member. "The board of the Rehab Group would like to sincerely thank Mr Flannery for his service as a board member and wish him well for the future," it added.
Mr Flannery began work with Rehab in 1973, was chief executive for 25 years until he retired in 2006, and was a board member of Rehab from 2011.
His Fine Gael links go back to his student days at University College Galway and he worked closely with leader Garret FitzGerald in the 1980s and returned to a similar role in 2002 after Mr Kenny became leader.
He led work on writing '21st Century Fine Gael', a blueprint for the party's revival after a disastrous election in May 2002.
Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran last night thanked Mr Flannery for his work – especially over the past 12 years.