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Frank Flannery could be returning to Fine Gael - but not everyone's happy

There’s been a mixed reaction in Fine Gael to news that the former strategist could return ahead of the general election.

Frank Flannery
Frank Flannery
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Updated 10pm 

TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has held talks with former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery about a possible return to the party in an advisory role, TheJournal.ie has learned.

It’s understood that Kenny initiated contact with Flannery, and the pair held a meeting in the Cellar Bar of the Merrion Hotel opposite Government Buildings within the last week.

They discussed the possibility of Fine Gael’s former director of elections returning to the party as a strategist ahead of the next general election. No firm decisions have been taken on either Kenny or Flannery’s side as to whether he will return.

However there is “a reasonable possibility” of it happening, a source close to the process said. Such a move would be welcomed by many in Fine Gael who believe his loss contributed to the party’s disastrous performance in 2014.

The pair’s meeting was the first since Flannery quit Fine Gael last March following controversy over his role as a consultant with the Rehab Group, which paid him thousands of euro to lobby government departments in 2011 and 2012.

Initial reaction to the news, which emerged last night, was one of relief in some Fine Gael quarters. Although others questioned the merit of bringing Flannery back given the difficulties that arose for the party at the time of his departure.

‘Wisdom’

Children’s Minister James Reilly said: “I would look forward to having the benefit of his wisdom and experience available to the party into the future.”

But speaking at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in Dublin today, Kildare North TD Anthony Lawlor said: “I wouldn’t exactly be overly happy with the fact that Frank Flannery is coming back in because it will divert attention away from what the government is doing at the moment, the success we’re having on the economic front.

“The last thing we need is diversions away from the message, the simple message that we have to send to the public out there.”

Flannery has been sharply critical of Fine Gael since he quit, saying in November that it seemed “hell-bent on self-destruction” in the wake of the John McNulty Seanad by-election debacle.

Before that, he told the Glenties summer school last July that Fine Gael’s local election strategy was “one of the worst I ever saw”.

Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney ridiculed suggestions that Flannery would return, saying: “Frank Flannery stepped down in terms of his involvement in Fine Gael and election preparations. I don’t see that changing and I don’t see that it has changed.

“All I have heard is that the Taoiseach met Frank Flannery for a cup of coffee which isn’t exactly a big news story.”

‘Huge asset’

Despite Flannery’s sharp criticism of the party, some members believe his absence from Fine Gael contributed to the party’s poor local elections performance in May and the subsequent mishandling of the McNulty affair.

Speaking to Galway Bay FM today, backbencher Brian Walsh suggested the McNulty debacle would not have happened had Flannery still been with the party.

He added: “I think he would be a huge asset to the party going into an election.”

Several party figures have privately expressed the view in recent months that Fine Gael would benefit from his return to the fold particularly given the departure of the party’s most recent director of elections, Phil Hogan, to the European Commission.

Speaking to political correspondents last month, Kenny indicated a possible rapprochement when he said he’d always regard Flannery “as a friend of mine”.

“So if I meet Frank Flannery in the street of course I will have a chat with him and a cup of coffee. Why wouldn’t I?” Kenny said on 17 December, prior to the recent meeting.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said today that Flannery has to resolve issues with the Public Accounts Committee before he returns to Fine Gael.

Flannery declined to comment when contacted last night.

First published 10.33pm on 07 January 2015

Enda: Frank Flannery is still my friend>

Read: Who is Frank Flannery and why is everyone talking about him?>

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Hugh O'Connell

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