Sunday 22 April 2018

Billy Flynn

The private eye was the first to expose garda corruption in Donegal, writes Maeve Sheehan

W ITH his 20-a-day smoking habit and snooker room for an office, Billy Flynn seemed the archetypal hard-boiled private detective. Unlike the Mike Hammers of this world, however, he preferred tea to whiskey and put his family first. When he was laid to rest last week, his eight children and 22 grandchildren flanked his coffin, each one a pillar of support for his bereaved wife, Eileen.

Billy Flynn, 64, was Ireland's original private eye. His trademarks were a pack of John Player Blue, his telephone greeting -- "Billy here" -- and his tenacity. He made a nuisance of himself to garda commissioners, ministers for justice and attorneys general. He sued indiscriminately. But he didn't always win.

Billy Flynn started his career 30 years ago, chasing Finbarr Ross, a rogue investor who had left more than a thousand pensioners high and dry.

He ended it last week, investigating sub-prime lenders on behalf of those he believed should never have got mortgages.

In between, he ran several missing-person investigations and probed several unsolved murders.

The case for which he will be remembered is the garda-corruption scandal in Donegal. He took up the case in 1997, when Frank McBrearty from Raphoe claimed that he was being set up as a murder suspect and subjected to garda harassment.

Flynn bombarded Nora Owen, who was Minister for Justice, with documents outlining the McBrearty's case -- more than 100 files in all.

His critics dismissed him as a nutter. Gardai privately said he was out to destabilise the force. Flynn proved them all wrong.

He produced evidence that threatening phone calls to members of the McBrearty family were made from the home of a garda. He was later praised for his work by the Morris Tribunal, the inquiry belatedly set up five years after Flynn had started his investigations.

He rarely went out because of his ill health. One unexpected visitor was Michael McDowell, who happened to be driving by on a Saturday morning in 2005 on his way to his holiday home when he phoned Flynn.

McDowell perused the letters Flynn had sent to Nora Owen. A few days later, McDowell produced one of the letters on Questions And Answers to suggest that she had prior knowledge of garda corruption in Donegal.

Billy Flynn talked constantly of retiring so he could spend more time with his grandchildren. He used to say "This is my last case" every time a new file came in.

In recent years, he worked as an insolvency practitioner. Demand for his services soared in the worsening economic climate. He hoped for a final 'big one' to go out on and thought he had found it in sub-prime lenders.

He knew many people who had borrowed excessively during the boom and were now left with mortgages they couldn't repay for properties worth half the price.

Last Sunday, he was excited about reports of a new campaign to legally challenge the lenders trying to repossess homes. He believed that the information he had gathered in his investigations could be of help in future test cases against lenders.

He made several phone calls that afternoon to the campaign organisers and journalists. Then he went to lie down for a while, but never woke up.

It was fitting that the plight of struggling mortgage holders should have occupied his final hours.

Having started his career acting for elderly investors duped by Ross, he had come full circle.

Billy is survived by his wife, Eileen, and their children, Patrick, Sharon, Eileen, Jackie, Elizabeth, Peter, Clare and Andrew.

Sunday Independent

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