John Drennan: A very messy business for 'the cleaner'
Frank Flannery may be Enda's good servant but Rehab could prove to be his Achilles' heel, writes John Drennan
Published 26/01/2014 | 02:30
It was possibly entirely accidental that at the last Fine Gael think-in, Frank Flannery spent an elongated period of time in the company of the new Fine Gael senator Hildegarde Naughton.
Hildegarde, coincidentally, shares a constituency with the Reform Alliance former Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames, and Brian Walsh, the sorrowing Prodigal Fine Gael son, who, unlike Fidelma, is engaging in serial acts of public mortification in an enthusiastic attempt to return to his FG inheritance.
It is possible, but pretty unlikely, that the conversation of Frank and Hildegarde was about the weather rather than how the new senator should go about replacing one or both of Enda's turbulent Galway West rebels.
Few would be surprised if the latter was the case, for over his four decades of service, Flannery has become the political equivalent of Harvey Keitel's 'Wolfie' in Pulp Fiction who specialised in cleaning up crime scenes.
Flannery may resemble a genteel academic, but, despite the snow-haired donnish affability, the political child of Garret FitzGerald has evolved into Fine Gael's 'cutest, the most clever, the most cunning' political Svengali of them all.
Flannery is seen as 'the cleaner' who has tidied up a multitude of political dis- asters. This reputation was forged in a hard battlefield when, along with 'Dear Leader' Enda and Cute Old Phil, Flannery was tasked in 2002 with rescuing Fine Gael. Flannery reinvented Fine Gael as a new Fianna Fail with a messianic certainty that was crossed with no small amount of Jesuitical cunning.
The problem, to borrow a phrase from the Phil Hogan School of cookery, is that you cannot make an omelette, no matter how tasty, without breaking a few eggs.
Nothing typified the capacity of Flannery in this regard more than coups such as securing George Lee and then Peter Mathews for justice minister Alan Shatter's constituency of Dublin South.
The problem for Flannery is that many enemies were made in this process within a party that is not noted for its loyalty to good servants and quite a few of those enemies are still hanging around.
Indeed, King Enda's 'good servant' found out how disposable he was after embarrassing Enda with comments about the attractions of an FG dalliance with Sinn Fein. Even the Queen of Hearts would have been unnerved by the speed of the execution after the strategist was found guilty of reading his leader's mind either incorrectly or too well.
Of course, Enda, being the ultimate pragmatist, ensured that Flannery would be restored just before an election in which FG fingertips brushed against the enchanted kingdom of an overall majority.
In the wake of that election, though he is the Fine Gael Director of Organisation, Flannery has kept a lower political profile than before. Few in Leinster House doubt, however, that in matters electoral, he continues to be his leader's hidden paw.
But, as the storm clouds swirl around Flannery over all that Rehab business, Enda's lucky general must be wondering if he is about to face a second defenestration. Ironically, the main trouble may now come from his own people rather than the Opposition.
Fianna Fail, of course, has a role to play too for it knows that if you want to wound our apparently impervious 'Dear Leader', the best route is through Flannery.
In the wake of the Friday the 13th-style return of the ghost of Bertie, courtesy of the horrors of the CRC board, Fianna Fail has been assiduously briefing that if the CRC was the FF ghoul, Rehab and all the surprises that might be contained therein, was part of the FG 'zone of influence'.
Already, the bracing vigour of Shatter's revelations about the Rehab lottery figures has risen more than a few eyebrows. Should the fire start to get hot under Enda's feet over Rehab, the one thing we can be sure of is that if FG's great spindoctor gets caught up in a spin, it is unlikely that Kenny has become any more merciful over the years.
Instead, should FF be correct in its hopes that Rehab is the FG Achilles' heel, not even Flannery's current status as the most cunning strategist of all will save 'King Enda's' good servant.