Thursday 26 April 2018

Frank Flannery: A first-class strategic communications man - and my best friend

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Bill O’Herlihy at the launch of the broadcaster’s autobiography in 2012
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Bill O’Herlihy at the launch of the broadcaster’s autobiography in 2012

Frank Flannery

During the General Election count in February 1982 - the election caused by the tax on children's shoes - Bill was handling the Fine Gael press office and I was a neophyte.

The assumption was that Fianna Fáil was going to have a very comfortable majority.

I picked up from the figures coming in from constituencies that it was going to be very tight.

Bill spotted this as being important, rang RTÉ and he sent me out.

I had never been in a studio before and here were senior figures like Gerald Barry and John Bowman.

Finally I got in and I outlined to them that it was impossible for Fianna Fáil to get an overall majority.

Bill got enormous satisfaction out of that - that between the two of us we had spotted something that nobody else had spotted at all.

He was a large part of my life.

I first met Bill in June 1981 when I was helping Fine Gael, a political party which had been out of power for eight years and thought it might never get in again, but was now under the bright young leadership of Garret Fitzgerald.

One of the men I met who played a major part in that campaign was a young Bill O'Herlihy. From Cork and of traditional Fine Gael stock, he was always a loyal party supporter and never wavered in that regard.

He said Jack Lynch approached him to run for Fianna Fail at one stage. However he was not interested as he was fundamentally a journalist and he had a tremendously inquiring mind.

He remained a very good friend and supporter of Enda Kenny up until his death. Fine Gael was a common thread in our involvement.

He had his RTÉ broadcasting side to his life. That started out in current affairs when he was working on '7 Days'.

Bill was a first class strategic communications man. He understood politics very, very well and he was one of the top PR people in Ireland. Bill was the doyen of that.

He was great at interpreting the politics of the day, positioning the party, and would have been highly respected by political journalists.

He had a very strategic mind and very clear thought. He was tough but innately decent minded. After Garret's time, Bill wouldn't have been hugely involved in politics.

He was always very good at any job he undertook. When I was CEO of Rehab, Bill handled our public relations. During that time, the only brand which was better known was Guinness.

Bill was always a strong publicist for the organisation.

I worked very closely with him in those regards as well so I had occasion to appreciate his skills.

He was highly intelligent and talented.

Being around Bill was always very interesting and there were ideas coming forward.

He was just enthusiastic, positive and optimistic.

He would be among my very closest friends, if not the closest friend I've ever had.

I was to meet him at nine (yesterday) morning for a meeting.

There were two projects we were working on and were moving towards the next phase of activities.

His company, O'Herlihy Communications, had merged only a month ago with Insight Communications and everyone was looking forward to working with him.

RTÉ was lining up a series for the summer called 'The Best of Bill', reviewing the highlights of his life with interviews with him reviewing those events.

Irish Independent

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