This is an exclusive extract from their new book 'A Century of Politics in the Kingdom - A County Kerry Compendium', in which authors Owen O'Shea and Gordon Revington recount a controversial episode when a TD was assaulted by a colleague alleged to have had a scandalous relationship with a young woman.
Seán Lemass rose to his feet in Dáil Éireann to present TDs with details of the Order of Business. It was January 31, 1952. The then Tánaiste outlined the various pieces of legislation to be debated that day as well as a proposal that the House would not sit the following week. A number of deputies rose to oppose the Order of Business, among them the Fine Gael leader, General Richard Mulcahy, and the leader of Clann na Poblachta, Seán MacBride. Several others asked about various bills which were before the House. The Independent TD for Dublin South East, Dr Noel Browne - who less than a year earlier had resigned as minister for health over the controversial Mother and Child Scheme - was called to speak by the Leas Cheann Comhairle, Cormac Breslin.
Dr Browne said: "I do not want to spend an unduly long time on the list mentioned by deputy [Liam] Cosgrave but I should like to draw attention to the reference to an Adoption of Children Bill."
Liam Cosgrave, the former Taoiseach, who had already spoken, interjected to say that he had not made any reference to the Adoption of Children Bill. Across the chamber from Cosgrave on the Independent benches, the conservative firebrand TD for Laois-Offaly, Oliver J Flanagan - then an Independent but later a Fine Gael deputy - made an obscure comment suggesting that another member of the House would be in a better position than Dr Browne to comment on the adoption legislation.
Mr Flanagan said: "Deputy Flynn would be more qualified to do that."
Deputy Flanagan was referring to the Independent TD for Kerry South, John (Jack) Flynn who was not in the chamber at the time. The Dáil transcripts do not record any reaction from other TDs to Flanagan's off-the-cuff remark and the Order of Business continued. Within a few short hours however, Flynn was to give his response to Flanagan - and in a most un-parliamentary manner. As Flanagan dined in the busy Dáil restaurant later that evening, he was approached by Flynn and challenged about his remarks earlier that day in the chamber. The Fine Gael parliamentary leader, John A Costello, later told the Dáil in vivid detail about what followed.
Mr Costello said: "It is my duty to interrupt the business for the purpose of drawing the attention of the House and particularly your attention, a Ceann Comhairle, to a gross breach of the privileges of this House and of a particular deputy and possibly of other deputies of the House which occurred in the precincts tonight.
"Tonight, after the discussion which took place on the motion to adjourn this House on the conclusion of its proceedings today until next Wednesday week… Deputy Flanagan was in the restaurant talking to another deputy, deputy Dillon, when… deputy Flynn came behind him, caught hold of him, turned him round, used a very offensive and obnoxious expression and struck him violently in the mouth, alleging that he had during the debate spoken about him, deputy Flynn.
"He also assaulted an usher, one of the servants of the House, and was guilty of extremely offensive conduct. As leader of the Opposition it then became my duty to inform you, so that you, a Ceann Comhairle, would take the necessary action and direct the proper steps to be taken."
The Ceann Comhairle, Patrick Hogan, insisted that the matter would be fully investigated. Fianna Fáil's Robert Briscoe suggested that John A Costello's account was "not in accordance with the facts", saying he was present in the dining room when the incident occurred and that Costello was not. Jack Flynn, who had re-entered the House, fresh from his encounter in the restaurant, concurred: "I wish to say that deputy Costello's statement is not a true picture of the incident."
Within days, Flanagan and Flynn were hauled before the Dáil's Committee on Procedure and Privileges, a committee which still oversees the conduct of deputies in the Dáil. The committee ruled that the use of violence in the precincts of Leinster House in this manner was "reprehensible in the extreme" adding that "deputy Flynn was guilty of contempt in taking, as it were, the law into his own hands in redress of a grievance properly a matter for the House itself".
Flanagan's remarks were found to be in breach of the order and decorum of the House. On March 5, 1952, six weeks after the incident, the Dáil accepted and adopted the committee's report and Flynn was formally censured by the Ceann Comhairle from the chair.
"In accordance with the provisions of this report, it becomes my duty to reprimand you, deputy John Flynn, for the assault committed by you in the precincts of the Dáil on January 31, as such assault was in contempt of the privilege of this House," he said.
So, what had prompted Oliver J Flanagan to make an obscure personal reference to Jack Flynn during a Dáil discussion and why had the Kerry South TD taken such umbrage and become so infuriated to the point that he punched Flanagan in the Dáil restaurant? The answer lies a few years earlier, when in controversial circumstances and following an alleged scandal, Flynn - who had been a Fianna Fáil TD of long-standing since 1932 - was unceremoniously removed from the party general election ticket by Éamon de Valera.
Despite having retained a seat for Fianna Fáil without a breach from 1932, ahead of the 1943 General Election, the frequent poll-topper was denied a nomination by the party leadership: the 'Irish Press' noted that he had 'withdrawn his candidature.' Contemporary newspaper accounts do not record why but it was alleged that Flynn had been conducting a relationship with a young woman. Former Fianna Fáil TD John O'Leary recalls that the allegation doing the rounds was even more serious than that.
"Though it was never proven, as far as I know, the rumour was that a girl had become pregnant by Flynn out of wedlock and that she had gone to England. It was never discussed publicly that I can recall but the story goes that when de Valera got wind of it, he threw Flynn out of the party in order to avoid scandal," he said.
No documentary evidence has ever been produced to suggest why Flynn was not a candidate for Fianna Fáil in 1943 and 1944 and nor do the party's archives spell out the reasons explicitly. But correspondence between party headquarters and the constituency organisation just weeks after the 1948 poll refer to the difficulties of the Jack Flynn 'situation' and his return to the Dáil as an Independent in the 1948 election.
Writing to the then general secretary of Fianna Fáil, Tom Mullins, the chairman of the Comhairle Dáil Cheantair in Kerry South, Fr Myles Allman - a brother of the well-known War of Independence veteran Dan Allman - described the party's predicament in a letter dated February 13, 1948, it said:
"The situation in which our friend Jack Flynn has left us is not an enviable one. We have but one FF deputy left and she is a woman. The constituency is 70 old miles from East to West - Mrs [Honor Mary] Crowley [TD] in Killarney is over from 50 miles from the far western end."
The Fianna Fáil general secretary responded on February 27, 1948:
"Dear Fr Myles,
"My apologies for delay in replying to yours of February 13. To be quite honest, I found it impossible to concentrate on letter writing during the past couple of weeks. I know you will understand."
Flynn's exile from Fianna Fáil was to be relatively short-lived, however. He managed to retain his Dáil seat at the 1951 General Election as an Independent, again denying Fianna Fáil two seats in the Kerry South three-seater.
By this time, Flynn's animosity towards de Valera had softened considerably. Following the election, and as an Independent deputy, he supported the nomination of his former party leader as Taoiseach. It was in stark contrast to the stance he had taken just three years previously. During the debate on the nomination of the Taoiseach in June 1951, he was challenged across the floor of the Dáil by Oliver J Flanagan who, months later, would be on the receiving end of Flynn's fist.
Mr Flanagan said: "I would like to hear deputy John Flynn, in whose constituency one of the candidates was almost torn to bits. I would like to know if deputy John Flynn told the people of South Kerry, who pulled the headlights off deputy de Valera's car, that deputy Éamon de Valera was going to be his choice of Taoiseach in this country… I hope and trust that, within the next 10 minutes, deputy John Flynn will tell this House, and tell the people of South Kerry and of Ireland, who watched the reception which one of the candidates got in the deputy's constituency, whether he got a mandate from the people of South Kerry to put deputy de Valera back as Taoiseach."
Flynn declined to rise to Flanagan's bait and was gushing in his praise for his former party leader.
Locally, as well as nationally, Flynn's rapprochement with Fianna Fáil was well under way in the summer of 1951. Within months of his voting for de Valera as Taoiseach, Flynn was re- admitted to his former party. At a meeting of the Comhairle Dáil Cheantair in Kerry South on November 10, 1951, "it was unanimously decided to admit Mr J Flynn TD to membership of the organisation".
Jack Flynn retained his seat for Fianna Fáil at the General Election of 1954 but he was dramatically unseated in 1957 when Sinn Féin won its first and only ever Dáil seat in Kerry South courtesy of John Joe Rice from Kenmare. The defeat heralded the beginning of the end of Flynn's political career and in 1960 he stood down as a member of Kerry County Council. Jack Flynn died in Dublin on August 22, 1968.
'A Century of Politics in the Kingdom - A County Kerry Compendium' by Owen O'Shea and Gordon Revington is published by Merrion Press, priced €19.99. Owen O'Shea is a former journalist and Labour Party press officer and election candidate. Gordon Revington writes with 'Kerry's Eye' and is a native of Tralee