Taoiseach Enda Kenny is set to dramatically bring former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery back into the party fold to work on general election strategy, the Irish Independent has learned.
Mr Flannery resigned as Fine Gael's director of elections and party trustee last March in the wake of controversy over his role as a board member with the Rehab Group, where he previously served as chief executive.
But Mr Kenny has now held talks with Mr Flannery about returning to the party. Mr Flannery is expected to take up a senior role on the party's election preparations committee.
The pair met in the Cellar Bar of the Merrion Hotel, across from Government Buildings, last week. The encounter came just weeks after Mr Kenny described Mr Flannery as a "friend" and said he would be happy to meet him for a coffee.
Mr Kenny and Mr Flannery are understood to have discussed a possible role for Mr Flannery in Fine Gael's general election preparations.
No agreement was reached about Mr Flannery returning or in what capacity. However, senior Fine Gael sources believe this will be finalised soon and Mr Flannery is open to returning.
"That is not yet determined. But it is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility. It is a distinct possibility," a source said.
Fine Gael sources were not surprised to hear of Mr Kenny's meeting with Mr Flannery as the Taoiseach needs to strengthen his strategy team ahead of the general election.
"There is a lot of pressure being put on him that he does bring back Frank Flannery in some capacity," a source said.
Mr Flannery's departure from the Fine Gael set-up was followed by European Commissioner Phil Hogan's move to Brussels. "The comments the Taoiseach made over Christmas would suggest some sort of thawing with Frank," a source said.
In a pre-Christmas briefing with political correspondents, Mr Kenny spoke positively about his relationship with Mr Flannery.
"I always regard Frank Flannery as a friend of mine, and he still is. You know friends can differ over different things now and again. There are always opportunities for people to give of their best," he said.
"So if I meet Frank Flannery in the street, I will have a chat with him and a cup of coffee, why wouldn't I?"
A Government spokesman declined to confirm last week's meeting took place, but did point to Mr Kenny's comments before Christmas.
"As the Taoiseach outlined in the pre-Christmas briefing, Frank Flannery is a friend of his and he would be more than happy to meet him," the spokesman said.
The Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had been seeking to quiz Mr Flannery about his involvement with Rehab, the State-funded charity and commercial group, which he acted as a lobbyist for in recent years.
However, a ruling by a Dail committee meant he did not have to appear before the spending watchdog. Mr Flannery has alleged the PAC pursuit of him was not "unrelated" to his former position in Fine Gael. He also claimed the PAC had acted "outside of the law" in its attempts to compel himself and former chief executive Angela Kerins to appear.