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Friday 19 September 2014

The Mighty Flynns and their dogged belief that they are always in the right

Published 01/07/2007 | 00:00

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LIKE FATHER LIKE DAUGHTER: Beverley Flynn with her father Padraig. Neither of them has ever had any problem standing out from the crowd

'ANY DAY you wake up and remember your own name and remember what day it is, is a good day," he offered with more than a hint of a glint in his eye.

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Having alighted from the witness stand at the Mahon tribunal on June 6 last year, Padraig Flynn may not have been ready to give fresh evidence to the microphones and tape recorders of the reporters waiting for him outside.

But he was prepared - as always - to entertain.

"We'll go west," he announced importantly, before striding off in the manner of a born-again Cu Chulainn, across the cobblestones of Dublin Castle, homeward bound for his beloved Mayo.

Padraig 'Pee' Flynn's brief dalliance, last June, with the tribunal, showed he had lost little of his sense of mischief, or self-regard since retiring from political life in 1999.

It follows then, that the sound of his daughter and political heiress, Beverley, defending her €1.225m settlement with RTE on national radio earlier last week must have been music to 68-year-old Padraig's ears.

Her insistence that she never believed she had done anything wrong in encouraging NIB customers to salt their money away in offshore bank accounts, as it was bank policy, must have given him a warm fuzzy feeling.

Her claim that she had been scapegoated as a consequence must also have appealed to her father's long-held belief that it's a case of the world against the Flynns, rather than the other way round.

But the Flynn family have never tried to run away from a fight - or the limelight - however negative that attention might be.

Indeed, when Padraig Flynn first arrived on the national stage in 1977, as a newly-elected Fianna Fail TD for Mayo, he quickly marked himself out as one to watch, literally.

So bold was Flynn's personal style, that the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey was moved to take note on the Mayoman's very first day in the Dail, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

"Somebody tell that clown, he's in the Dail now, not the ring of Duffy's Circus," Haughey was heard to mutter to a frontbench colleague as Flynn pranced into the chamber, sporting a brilliant white suit.

Notwithstanding that glaring fashion faux pas, Padraig Flynn has never had a problem standing out from the crowd.

A readiness to speak his own mind marked him out from an early age.

As a schoolboy in St Gerard's De La Salle in Castlebar, Flynn is said to have incurred the wrath of his English teacher when asked to write an essay describing his ideal tutor.

While the rest of his classmates delivered a proverbial ode to their taskmaster, the young Flynn wrote: "It certainly isn't some fella in a skirt with a baldy head waving rosary beads around the place."

Unsurprisingly, he received a dressing-down from the soutane-wearing Christian Brother.

Not that a chiding in the classroom did anything to temper Flynn's behaviour.

A classic and enduring example of his ability to wreak verbal havoc came in 1999 when, as an EU commissioner, he appeared on the Late Late Show with its then host, Gay Byrne.

Blithely oblivious to the realities of life for ordinary people in an Ireland only beginning to find its bearings, in the aftermath of years in the economic doldrums, Flynn caused outrage when he spoke of the "difficulty" of running three houses on a mere £130,000 (€165,000) a year.

His remarks in relation to the Sligo-born developer Tom Gilmartin proved to be far more of a sensation, however, and one with consequences that are still being played out at the Mahon tribunal, eight years later.

Asked for his views on the Luton-based Gilmartin, from whom he had received a £50,000 (€63,000) "political donation" while serving as Environment Minister, Flynn attempted to dismiss him by saying he was unwell, and that his wife was in poor health.

Unknown to Flynn, however, Mr Gilmartin was in rude good health as he watched the interview on television in the comfort of his Luton home.

And while he could shrug off remarks made in relation to himself, Flynn's reference to Mr Gilmartin's wife incensed him.

There and then, the millionaire developer resolved to return to Dublin to testify at the Flood tribunal, which had been set up two years earlier to investigate planning corruption in Dublin in the Eighties.

Not that Padraig Flynn appears in any way bothered by the tribunal's ongoing investigations into his financial affairs, which include probing the source of £150,000 lodged into his accounts between 1987 and 1993.

These days, the former Fianna Fail minister devotes much of his energy to his passion for painting watercolour landscapes of his native Mayo. Apart from this distraction, Flynn follows the career of his politician daughter, Beverley, closely, and with intense pride. That pride will have swelled predictably in the past number of weeks with her re-election as a TD for Mayo.

Also somewhat gratifying for her father, will be Beverley's perceived victory over RTE in negotiating the settlement of her €2.8m legal bill with RTE, arising from her 'Somebody tell that clown, he's in the Dail now, not the ring of Duffy's Circus,' said Haughey, on Padraig Flynn's first day in the Dail

failed 2001 libel action, down to a relatively small €1.225m.

Even more pleasing both to Beverley and her father, however, is the invitation extended to her by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to re-enter the Fianna Fail fold, after three years in the independent wilderness.

Add to that Mr Ahern's tantalising offer of a junior ministry in his expected 2009 reshuffle, and the Flynn political dynasty would appear to be very much in the ascendant again.

Proper order . . . if you're a Flynn that is.

"Bloodied but unbowed, and never ever cowed," is how one Castlebar local described them last week, in the wake of Beverley's interview on RTE Radio's News at One, in which she pointedly refused to say she was in any way sorry for taking her doomed libel action against the State broadcaster in 1999.

Describing herself as a scapegoat for NIB Bank's practice of selling policies which encouraged customers to hide money from the Revenue in offshore investment products, Ms Flynn said she never believed she had done anything wrong.

That bold pronouncement may well have appealed to her family and her father in particular, but it didn't play well with radio listeners, a good number of whom rang RTE to express their anger at what they saw as Beverley's arrogance.

In a rare display of Flynn humility, Beverley conceded, in the same interview, that she knew there were people who thought negatively of her, before adding how she hoped to have an opportunity to "swing" those people around.

Deputy Flynn's Herculean task to turn the tide of public opinion could usefully begin in her home town of Castlebar.

One local uncharitably describes Beverley as a chip off the old block.

Indeed, it appears that, like her father, Beverley quite literally stood out from the crowd from an early age, sometimes going as far as demanding service in local shops ahead of anyone else in the queue.

"A class act," as her father endearingly put it.

No doubt Ms Flynn's childhood self-confidence was buoyed up in no small measure by the meteoric rise in her father's political and business fortunes.

When Padraig and his wife Dorothy embarked on married life together in 1963, he was a schoolteacher, and they lived together in a modest Castlebar flat.

While teaching afforded him job security and a certain status in the community, it didn't lend itself readily to much else.

But that all changed in 1977 with Padraig's election to the Dail as a Fianna Fail TD. His decision to join Fianna Fail in the first place is understood to have been encouraged by his mother Anne.

A milliner by trade, 'Hatpin' Flynn - as she was affectionately known - believed that her son should join what she considered to be the winning side when he entered politics.

Padraig's father Paddy is believed to have been bitterly disappointed by his son signing up to the Soldiers of Destiny, given his own political allegiance to Fine Gael.

Almost as soon as Padraig Flynn entered the Dail in 1977, he and his wife - the daughter of a doctor from Dublin's North Strand - began to acquire land around Castlebar.

Today, it is understood that the former Environment Minister and EU commissioner owns in the region of 120 acres in the Carrowbrinogue townland with an estimated value of €5m.

The Flynn family home - Carrowbrinogue Lodge - has an estimated value of €1.5m, while an apartment in the exclusive Burleigh Court on Burlington Road in Dublin 4, purchased in 1994, is worth in the region of €700,000 today.

The Flynn's D4 base, behind the Burlington Hotel, recently piqued the interest of developers buying up land in the area.

Padraig and his neighbours in the upmarket apartment complex are understood to have been offered €800,000 each and alternative accommodation to vacate the building, but declined to do so.

While he might appear a little eccentric at times, Padraig Flynn is no fool when it comes to dealing in property.

A good illustration of this was his sale of his bar, the Sunflower, in Castlebar in 1989, which he sold for a massive £80,000 (€100,000).

In all, Padraig's property portfolio is believed to be worth in excess of €8m.

Such formidable resources predictably lead to speculation that Padraig would pick up the tab for his daughter's €1.225m legal bill with RTE.

But such theorising shows an acute lack of understanding of the Flynns' collective psyche.

Although it is no secret that the family stick together, Beverley would no doubt view the acceptance of financial assistance from her father as an admission of failure or defeat on her part, something that is pure anathema to a Flynn.

And while Padraig Flynn might well be willing to give her the money to pay her debt, he would probably be disappointed to have to do it too.

The Flynns' unstinting belief that they are in the right hasn't landed only Beverley and her father in trouble.

In 2000 for example, Padraig accompanied another of his daughters, Audrey, to Castlebar District Court, where she faced 30 charges of using her Mercedes to bring local children to and from school for payment.

Controversially, during the trial, Judge Mary Devins ordered Audrey to undergo psychiatric evaluation, having come to the conclusion that Ms Flynn was unable to grasp the reality of what she had done, and that she had attempted to mislead the court.

The judge said she found Audrey's attitude to be one of "breathtaking arrogance".

Whether the Flynns are arrogant or merely proud, Beverley, for her part, ruled out the possibility, during the week, of accepting gifts from her father, insisting that she would be "borrowing extensively" to pay her €1.225m legal bill herself.

She described as unfair suggestions that she would seek the assistance of her father or her partner and father of her two children, millionaire builder Tony Gaughan, to deal with the matter.

Mr Gaughan's story is a classic one of proverbial rags to riches, driven by hard work and sheer dint of will.

When the young Gaughan left his home in the small village of Doohoma to work on the building sites of Britain in the Seventies, the economic outlook for Ireland, and the West in particular, was decidedly bleak.

And even as he returned home to Mayo in the late Eighties, things weren't all that much better.

But from humble beginnings as a "one man and his van" operation, Gaughan quickly grew his business into a multimillion pound - and then euro - concern.

Today, TJ Gaughan Construction has stock on its books to the value of €8.2m, while Mr Gaughan personally owns houses on the Dublin Road outside Castlebar, and in his home village of Doohoma.

Beverley and Tony Gaughan live in the Dublin Road property, an eight-bedroomed mansion which, for obvious reasons, soon became known locally as "Beverley Hills".

More sophisticated wags, however, refer to Bev and Tony's palace as "Windsor Castle", in acknowledgement of the house's location in the townland of Windsor.

While Beverley has said she will not allow her wealthy partner to pay her €1.225mlegal bill, it is now being speculated that she could come to an arrangement whereby Mr Gaughan would give it to her in the form of a repayable loan.

Contacted by the Sunday Independent, Ms Flynn refused to comment on this suggestion, or on how she intended to fund the payment of her legal costs.

With the massive bill expected to fall due within the next two months, Beverley Flynn will be centre stage yet again, as details of how she finances the RTE settlement drip-feed into the public domain.

Add to that, the imminent reappearance of her father at the Mahon tribunal in Dublin Castle, and the Flynns could unwittingly contrive to hog the headlines as the definitive "class act".

Not that every member of the Flynn clan is an attention seeker, or getter.

To be fair, there are other unassuming members of the family who remain firmly in the background.

Turlough, the Flynns' only son, is said by Castlebar locals to have a modest and unassuming nature.

A financial accountant by profession, he has worked for a number of high-profile clients, including beef baron Larry Goodman.

The only time Turlough has appeared in public view, however, was when he attended his sister Beverley's libel action in the High Court in 2001, to offer her his support.

Another of the Flynns' daughters, Sharon, works as a school principal in the Mayo town of Derrada.

She lives in a Gaughan-built house in Castlebar with her son from her marriage to Sean Dunleavy - son of a planning officer for Mayo County Council.

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