News Fionnan Sheahan

Friday 22 August 2014

Nothing personal as even wily Frank falls foul of Enda's never-ending ruthless streak

Fionnan Sheahan

Published 12/03/2014 | 02:30

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From a base of just 30 seats, Frank Flannery foresaw Fine Gael would become the biggest party in the country.

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He was instrumental in convincing the voters it was a possibility for the party to return to power and ultimately oversaw the ascendancy.

Moreover, he believed Enda Kenny would become Taoiseach – even when many in Fine Gael did not.

Flannery's influence in the party's rejuvenation cannot be underestimated.

Commissioned by Enda Kenny, he wrote the blueprint for the party's recovery, known as the 'Flannery Report', and pointed out how to reorganise the party, fundraise and the preferred interaction between the parliamentary wing and headquarters.

Such was his power within the party, a credible rumour circulated five years ago that George Lee had not actually spoken to Enda Kenny before his decision to run for the party because the negotiations were all handled by Flannery.

Indeed, the gossip continued, Kenny didn't even know about it until the last minute and was kept in the dark – although perhaps that's a bit too much of a stretch.

Regardless, Flannery did take a major part in the identification and selection of candidates and has extensive knowledge on every electoral area of the country.

Ahead of his time, a year out from the 2007 General Election, Flannery produced a 'National Constituency Analysis' for the party in which he suggested "for the first time since the early 1980s, Fine Gael can realistically aspire to becoming the largest Party in the next Dail".

"This is undoubtedly an ambitious target, but it is a credible one," he said.

The sight of Flannery on the podium at Fine Gael press conferences during the 2007 General Election campaign caused agitation among Fianna Fail ministers and spin doctors.

Fianna Fail's slant was Fine Gael had so little talent they didn't have enough TDs and candidates to put under scrutiny, so had to put out party strategists.

Flannery was just enthusiastically talking up his party's prospects of winning a swathe of seats right across the country to sweep Kenny into power as Taoiseach.

The plan fell short in 2007 but came to fruition four years later with Fianna Fail's collapse.

Three years later, Kenny and Fine Gael have washed their hands of Flannery. Once the political heat came on over the cross-contamination between his work for Rehab and Fine Gael, the party had to create distance. "Frank ended up being the stick to beat Enda with," a party source said.

Although there is curiosity about how such a wily operator allowed the situation to get out of hand, Flannery also saw the writing on the wall with his resignations from Rehab and Fine Gael.

Those in Fine Gael who believe the Dail Public Accounts Committee's homing in on Flannery was for political reasons, driven by the Opposition, ignore the comments from their own members of the committee.

"Him, Enda and Hogan were among the handful who believed Fine Gael could become the largest party in the country. There's a lot of TDs in Fine Gael who owe it to him that they are in Leinster House," a party source said last night.

Flannery has had his setbacks before, most notably when he suggested the party could do business with Sinn Fein, and has bounced back.

Perhaps this time is slightly more different as it's a public, rather than party, controversy.

That's not to say Flannery's counsel won't be sought. He'll still be making his predictions, but it will be in a less public way.

Kenny has again shown he has little sentiment when it comes to being ruthless, publicly shunning even his most loyal servants.

Flannery being dumped is just business – nothing personal.

And that's politics.

Irish Independent

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