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Flannery says Fine Gael faces 'an electoral meltdown'

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Frank Flannery

Frank Flannery

Frank Flannery

When Frank Flannery resigned from his positions as Fine Gael's director of elections and party trustee last March, he did so with a call from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to go before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to answer questions in relation to the Rehab controversy ringing in his ears.

Some 10 months on however, and with reports of a meeting between the two having taken place at Dublin's Merrion Hotel before Christmas, it looks as if Flannery's period of political exile is about to come to an end.

Sitting down for an interview with the Sunday Independent in the same hotel last Friday morning, the man widely credited with bringing Kenny within striking distance of an overall majority in the 2011 general election says he can't answer that question until Fine Gael ask him.

"It's essentially a matter for Fine Gael, and as I can see it, I'm not at all sure they've made their minds up. That is a matter for them. But if they were to ask me, then it's a matter for me as to how I would respond," Flannery says.

Having played a crucial role in every Fine Gael election campaign since 1999 - with the exception of the party's near-fatal outing in 2002 - it would seem he's keen to answer the call.

He is, however, acutely conscious of what he would be letting himself in for, given the circumstances surrounding his departure from Fine Gael and the manner in which political debate is now conducted.

He says: "It's a tough place to be, there's no doubt about that. There's nothing very attractive about politics the way it is now, but nonetheless the job has to be done by somebody and if it falls to me to give an additional assist, I would."

Fuelling Flannery's desire to step into the breach is his fear that Fine Gael faces an electoral meltdown, which could see it hurtling towards depths it hasn't experienced since the dark days of 2002.

Responding to suggestions that there may be some within the party uneasy at his possible return and the impact it might have on their chances of being on the Fine Gael ticket, Flannery issues a chilling warning on the number of Dail seats he believes are now hanging in the balance.

"As we speak, they could be looking at losses of up to 40 seats. My objective would be to bring back as many of those 76 as is humanly possible. If it was done really well, I don't see why Fine Gael can't get its poll well back into the thirties, why we can't come back as a very strong party. That would be my objective if I were to be involved. My objective would be to save every seat possible and to win new seats," he says.

Asked if Kenny had expressed his personal wish for him to be involved in Fine Gael's election strategy, he says: "I would think Enda is considering the matter as well, but he is in a reflective mood on it.

"I would have ideas as to how the party should approach the coming general election. And let's face it, I've been involved in every election the party fought since 1999 with the exception of 2002, so I'd have a fair bit of experience and reasonably current experience to bring to bear on that. It's a matter for the party if they want me involved or not.

"I would have thought for Fine Gael the next election is very much an All-Ireland final and it's one where they can't even contemplate failure. They must have out their very best team, and if they think I should be part of that then they should be checking out my availability.

"That would be my view of it. If they think I'm not, then that's perfectly fine by me," he adds.

Commenting on the interpretation by some that his meeting with the Taoiseach suggested the election would now be called in 2015, Flannery says: "If I were advising him, I would tell him to forget about 2015 and to concentrate on 2016."

Asked if the controversy surrounding Rehab and his stand-off with PAC wouldn't have a negative impact on Fine Gael's election preparations were he to be involved, he is adamant it would not.

"I don't think so. I don't think it's relevant. In so far as that was a controversy, it relates to the fact that PAC wanted to question me on things which the Committee on Procedures and Privileges determined were way outside the scope, so it just wasn't a practical reality at all. There's no way I could be expected to engage in what was an extra-legal activity.

"I think it's worth emphasising I never refused to attend PAC, but when I asked PAC to tell me what they wanted to talk to me about, and how it related to their remit, they were unable to answer that question," he adds.

Pressed on how many meetings he has had with Enda Kenny other than the one reported on last week, Flannery is understandably coy.

"I won't go into that. There haven't been a lot of meetings. We've had a couple of conversations and we've resumed our natural discourse. Let's put it that way.

"We've had a frank exchange of views, so we understand each other."

Asked how their initial meeting at the Merrion Hotel had come about, and who had called whom first, he says: "Enda took the initiative in that he spoke to the political correspondents before Christmas and he stated that first of all he regarded our friendship as an ongoing affair and that he'd be willing to have a cup of coffee with me any time that we'd meet. That kind of opened the door, so we moved on from there."

Sunday Independent