Tuesday 23 December 2014

Pulp Friction as ruthless Kenny jettisons FG fixer

Will the Taoiseach regret dropping the wily strategist who resurrected the party

Published 16/03/2014 | 02:30

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny with Frank  Flannery, director of elections in 2009. Photo: Tom Burke
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny with Frank Flannery, director of elections in 2009. Photo: Tom Burke
Frank Flannery at Leinster House in 2012. Picture: Tom Burke

Nothing epitomised how the careers of those who advise princes rarely end well more than Tenniel's famous 'dropping the pilot' cartoon featuring Kaiser Wilhelm II ordering the German chancellor Bismarck off the ship of state.

The departing chancellor might have united Germany 'without firing a shot', but, once the new Kaiser felt he could do things better, Bismarck was dispensed with with a single haughty click of the fingers.

Outside of noting that many believe it was easier to unite Germany than Fine Gael, the exiling of Flannery has plenty of resonances with the fate of Bismarck.

However, will Mr Kenny and a Fine Gael hierarchy who show no distress (with the exception of the politically knowledgeable Phil Hogan) yet regret the dropping of the pilot who moulded both into whatever it is that they are today?

Of course, in the new age of champagne politics for Fine Gael, Flannery's role in saving the doomed FG project in 2002 has been blithely dismissed.

It is easy to forget though that back then Fine Gael was a self-indulgent family at war who could gut each other at will before folding any time one of those rough Fianna Fail types came near them.

They may be the big boys in the Dail now but no one back in 2002 or even 2010 was queueing up to say FG and its Lite leader would one day be at the helm of the largest party in the State.

In fairness, they could hardly afford not to drop the last retainer from the Garret era, for while Fine Gael's last great spear-carrier from that age has never been accused of illegal practices, Mr Flannery was far too deeply embedded in Shades of Grey country for the ease and comfort of 'Dear Leader' Enda.

In particular, the image, sedulously fostered by Ruairi Quinn of Frank hobnobbing in the ministerial corridor nuzzling the ears of a minister here and an adviser there, was not a pretty one.

Mr Flannery may have never been paid for his work for Fine Gael, but, in a classic example of the importance of invisible power, he appeared to be acquiring very tangible benefits courtesy of his closeness to the Cabinet.

And while nothing illegal attaches itself to the fees Mr Flannery secured for his philanthropic endeavours, his work on behalf of wealthy tax exiles did not exactly meet the public belief that philanthropy should be about orphans and blind children.

The dropping of our pilot was also facilitated by the utter lack of political nous displayed by Flannery in the Rehab debacle where shades of the Late Late-style hubris of Pee Flynn surrounded his decision to dine at Leinster House with Cute Old Phil in the middle of the Public Accounts Committee furore.

It was enough for a 'seething' Kenny, who has become increasingly impatient at the notion that his

happy state is the consequence of Flannery's Svengali-style instincts, to despatch his ally.

Of course, like those fairytales about monsters in the bedroom closets, the FG back-bench children are still whispering about how 'Frank really hasn't gone away, you know'.

The talk is that Mr Flannery's exile is a matter of public appearances where, rather like the Sinn Fein fuss in 2009, Mr Flannery is the dog who on being caught despoiling the neighbour's lawn is chastised in public but privately praised by his owner.

The scale of his fall suggests the children needn't be too frightened, for the defenestration has been so thorough all of the stripes down to his access badge have been pulled off Flannery's uniform.

As the pilot was despatched from the FG ship without even being given a plank to walk on, our FG children might be wise to fret far more over the escalating amount of political accidents that are happening to Mr Kenny's closest advisers.

Outside of the departed Mr Flannery, the feet of James Reilly and Alan Shatter appear to be permanently in the political fire while Phil Hogan appears to operate on a week- on, week-off basis when it comes to trouble.

Mr Flannery's capacity to sort out all of FG's messes and accidental shootings with a charming ruthlessness saw him being recently compared to Harvey Keitel's 'the Cleaner' in Pulp Fiction.

The departure of Mr Flannery and the troubles of his other allies mean an increasingly isolated Taoiseach is starting to attract questions about his political judgement.

Mr Kenny might also do well to recall that while the German Kaiser initially thrived after dropping his pilot, ultimately that too did not work out too well.

A happier alternative theory is that the departure of Mr Flannery could provide us with another case of Enda's status as a lucky general.

The old nursery rhyme may warn you should never 'let go the hand of nurse for fear of finding someone worse'.

However, Mr Kenny could yet provide us with the precedent where splitting from a nurse means you actually end up avoiding 'something worse'.

Sunday Independent

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