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Sunday 31 August 2014

Rehab saga has potential to seriously damage Fine Gael

Gerard O'Regan

Published 17/04/2014 | 02:30

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny with former Fine Gael strategist and Rehab director Frank Flannery
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with former Fine Gael strategist and Rehab director Frank Flannery

HAS Frank Flannery – and indeed Angela Kerins – made a major tactical error in not telling the morality police on the Public Accounts Committee the full details of their pay and perks with Rehab over the years?

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As argument and counter argument continues, the long-standing Fine Gael backroom strategist should surely have played it all so differently. What can he really gain with bravado from a distance? He is around long enough to realise that most of Rehab's operational secrets will seep into the public domain sooner rather than later.

Most disconcerting of all for both him and the charity – not to mention Enda Kenny and Fine Gael – is the unremitting drip-drip of information. Some of it is very juicy stuff indeed. It will inevitably act as a spur to those who want to know more and who will keep on peeling the onion. The reality is that there is really no going back on the Rehab drama now. Apart from anything else, the saga is too ensnared in Fine Gael politics.

The longer it goes on, the better it is for those who would like to really dent the Enda Kenny 'new politics' persona. It is a dream scenario for Fianna Fail in particular. In the public mind, the unanswered questions surrounding the lack of full disclosure regarding Rehab are a reminder of somewhat similar situations when the Soldiers of Destiny were in power.

The organisation's delay in being totally up front about the spending of taxpayers' money gives Micheal Martin much-needed moral high ground.

It is also bad timing, from the Government's viewpoint, that the potential fall-out from the various investigations initiated by Justice Minister Alan Shatter in the wake of the GSOC and penalty points revelations hovers in the background. These findings may embolden the opposition further.

The decision by Frank Flannery and Angela Kerins to seek the protection of legal niceties may well, from their viewpoint prove to be seriously counter-productive. It will only encourage the more zealous in the PAC to get their own lawyers involved. Yet whatever happens, one fundamental truism remains – there has to be absolute accountability from organisations who are allocated wads of cash by the State.

If Mr Flannery had decided to face down the committee, and even if his salary and pension were deemed to be over-generous, he would have won some kudos for having argued his case in public.

His only defence might be "those were the times that were in it – that's what the board decided I was worth etc". But at least such a stance would show a certain moral fortitude.

Of course, a more sticky situation for him would be to explain the substantial payments he received for that often mysterious process described as 'lobbying'.

But the bottom line is there is nothing intrinsically illegal about a lobbyist trying to persuade a government minister to favour a particular client. There is also the question of Rehab ancillary businesses which came to light during the PAC hearings.

This is an area which should really be investigated by the relevant government agencies. Therefore when all the dust settles – slow and tortuous as the process may be – the truth should out.

To quote a phrase from another time, Enda Kenny "cannot stand idly by'' on this one.

Fine Gael should be basking in the afterglow of the presidential visit to Britain but that is not the case.

There is a flavour in the wind in recent times that the promise of 'new politics' from the Coalition is under dire threat.

This is really all about the charity business in Ireland. Due to a series of events, the sector will never be quite the same again. Mr Flannery and Ms Kerins, whatever remuneration package they received, would be best served putting everything out in the open. The way things stand, it's all too tawdry – and far too damaging for Fine Gael – for a culture of secrecy to survive.

Irish Independent

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