independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Banker who changed Enda's mind on Seanad

Fine Gael adviser Sean Faughnan told Enda Kenny that voters wanted Upper House gone, says John Drennan

PICTURE THIS: Mary McAleese and her husband Martin, pictured with a painting of Annaghdown Castle, which was presented to the then President during her visit to St. Brendan's National School, Annaghdown. Sean Faughnan, right, is the owner of Annaghdown Castle. Photograph: Iain McDonald

A LITTLE known investment banker turned medieval castle owner is today revealed as being the 'mastermind' behind the Government's plan to abolish the Seanad.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's controversial decision to get rid of the Upper House came after he was presented by research conducted by a policy review group, chaired by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.

The Taoiseach had not been previously in favour of abolishing the Upper House.

The party sources also reveal that Fine Gael adviser Sean Faughnan was the driving force behind the plan to abolish the Seanad.

One senior Fine Gael source told the Sunday Independent: "Remember it was 2009, before the heave. Enda and the top men were anticipating a poll the week after the Fine Gael presidential dinner.

They had to ensure there would be no further slippage, Labour was catching up; it was just after Gilmore effectively sacked John O'Donoghue."

According to a separate source, Mr Faughnan addressed the policy review group around this time in which he presented evidence that showed voters "wanted the Seanad gone".

The source added: "He told us the party had done a huge amount of focus group work, one of the top American companies was involved – the polls said the people wanted the Seanad gone.

"The admission was very matter of fact, the party was in trouble, something popular had to be done.''

A second source said that Mr Faughnan again told a Party Manifesto Group meeting in February 2010 that abolishing the Seanad would be "popular with the voters".

The source said: "He [Faughnan] was the man pushing it. Everyone at the time knew Sean Faughnan, not Kenny, was the author.''

The source added: "Faughnan was the brains, the policy adviser. Faughnan was intellectually behind it, told Enda what had to be done, and then the top man ran with it at the gig.''

Sources dismissed the role Environment Minister Phil Hogan played in the plan to get rid of the Upper House.

"Phil Hogan didn't mind having it in the manifesto so long as it wasn't implemented. In fairness Phil is a political traditionalist. He likes promising councillors they will be senators," one source said.

Mystery, meanwhile, continues to surround the nature of the alleged research Fine Gael claims was so persuasive in convincing Mr Kenny to abolish the Seanad.

Democracy Matters, one of the groups campaigning to maintain a reformed Seanad, has still not received a response to its request for Mr Kenny to release the research that prompted his dramatic U-turn on the issue.

In spite of his importance within certain Fine Gael circles, Mr Faughnan is largely unknown even within his own party.

One leading Fine Gael figure told the Sunday Independent: "I thought he was actually a film script writer when he arrived."

In fact, Mr Faughnan is a former investment banker who worked for JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs in London before returning to work for Fine Gael.

He has a PhD in International Relations from Cambridge and a history Master's from UCD on the 1937 Irish Constitution.

A senior Fine Gael source told the Sunday Independent that Faughnan, who is believed to be very close to Kenny, was hired "to come up with the 'big ideas' and provide Fine Gael with the intellectual backbone that was felt at the time was missing within the party''.

Intriguingly, the man who may be responsible for the abolition of the Seanad has been a key figure behind the restoration of a different historical artefact.

Mr Faughnan has, with his wife Jessica Cooke, been involved for over a decade in the renovation of the medieval Annaghdown Castle, ancient home of the Galway O'Flaherty clan. The castle is a Norman tower house which was originally purchased by his wife's father in the Seventies for £2,000 Irish pounds.

Mr Faughnan and his wife met in Cambridge where she was studying for a PhD having studied Ancient History, Medieval English and Archaeology at Trinity.

Responding to the claims that Faughnan had been the mastermind behind the Kenny U-turn, a Fine Gael spokesperson said the leader's decision had come after "several months of intensive work'' following Kenny's claim in July 2009 that he would be "starting a process of developing a programme of radical political reform, led by Phil Hogan and supported by party researchers''.

This, they added, had then been "published shortly afterwards in the New Politics policy document, which formed the basis of Fine Gael policy on political reform for the general election''.

Sunday Independent

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