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Thursday 14 November 2019

Allegiance to party meant he was held in highest esteem

Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

FRANK Flannery's social diary will have a lot more space to fill in the coming months after he officially cut ties with the party to which he dedicated most of his life.

The political strategist was a regular fixture at Fine Gael gatherings and was held in high regard among the party's elite before he resigned yesterday afternoon.

He is credited with Enda Kenny's success at the last general election, and has been a loyal lieutenant to the Taoiseach since the latter took the party leadership more than decade ago.

However, he was reprimanded by the Fine Gael leader and forced to take a step back when he suggested the party could form an alliance with Sinn Fein ahead of the 2009 local elections.

Otherwise, he was held in high esteem and only last Thursday he was spotted rubbing shoulders with colleagues at the European People's Party conference in the Convention Centre in Dublin.

And the week before that, he was roaming the halls of the RDS in Ballsbridge when party delegates gathered for their annual ard fheis.

No doubt, Mr Flannery, who was the party's director of elections, spent both evenings plotting strategies with colleagues ahead of the forthcoming European and local elections in May.

At the same time, at the back of his mind must have been the thought that those he spoke with, whether they said it publicly or not, were wondering if he would bare all before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The Taoiseach did not hide his feelings at the ard fheis when he told reporters that Mr Flannery should go before the PAC where he would be grilled on the salary he earned during his 25 years as the Rehab Group CEO. It was an assertion he repeated yesterday, but Mr Flannery has so far refused to confirm he will attend a hearing.

The distance Mr Kenny has put between himself and his party strategist is a long way removed from St Patrick's Day last year when the pair attended the official White House dinner together with US President Barack Obama.

The political allies and good friends were among 400 guests who gathered to hear Mr Obama praise Ireland's recovery from the recession.

It must have been a proud moment for Mr Flannery, knowing the late nights crunching numbers for obscure constituencies had paid off.

Soon after Fine Gael came into power in 2011, Mr Flannery was appointed chairman of the Forum of Philanthropy by Environment Minister Phil Hogan.

The group is tasked with increasing philanthropic and charitable donations and developing "fundraising capacity and best practice across the sector".

Mr Flannery does not receive any remuneration for this position and will remain as chairman.

He has enjoyed some successes with the fundraising organisation and his One Percent Difference campaign, which is aimed at getting people to make small donations, has been lauded by those in the charity sector.

But not all of his fundraising initiatives have been welcomed.

Last year he suggested the Government should allow tax exiles to pay donations to stay in the country beyond the number of days they are currently permitted under tax laws.

He proposed that tax exiles could pay an initial €5m to a business investment or a charity followed by €1m for the next 10 years to stay an extra two months in the country. The idea was rejected by Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

This was not the first time Mr Flannery proposed an innovative fundraising scheme, which others may not consider conventional.

He lobbied Mr Kenny, while he was tourism and trade minister, about a Rehab Group plan to open a €5m casino in Dublin city centre in 1995.

The charity, which hoped to raise money for disability services through blackjack tables and roulette wheels, sought Mr Kenny's help to secure a lucrative gaming licence.

Mr Flannery, who was chief executive of the charity at the time, was forced to defend the move when questions were raised about Rehab's partnership with UK gaming company Crockfords.

Irish Independent

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