Mr Fix-It faces his own big fix

The man famed for finding ways out of the toughest disputes chose to resign his high-profile positions, writes Political Reporter Michael O’Farrell.

ADEPT at finding ways out of seemingly interminable disputes, Phil Flynn saw the only option to escape the eye of an enormous political storm was to resign from the top positions he held in Irish business and political circles.

Revealed as a non-executive director of Cork firm Chesterton Finance, Mr Flynn found himself answering the door to the Criminal Assets Bureau in recent days.

Yesterday he was forced to field media enquiries seeking an explanation of his relationship with Ted Cunningham, the 57-year-old licensed money lender who is in garda custody answering awkward questions about the £2.3m in sterling notes found in a compost bin in his back garden.

Mr Cunningham is a director of Chesterton Finance, the company at the centre of alleged money-laundering on behalf of the IRA.

CAB officers searched Phil Flynn’s home on Wednesday and Mr Flynn voluntarily handed over any documents relating to Chesterton Finance. Significantly, Mr Flynn was not arrested.

However, as a former union supremo turned chief government troubleshooter, Phil Flynn enjoys a very prominent role in public life, so he can’t expect to escape intense media and political speculation any time soon.

Yesterday he told reporters he had no idea how he had become embroiled in the current controversy.

There are two possibilities. Either Mr Flynn has been unwittingly drawn into a decidedly dodgy affair through no fault of his own, or he knowingly became involved in the sort of shady business activities no government fixer should ever associate himself with.

If the latter were the case, to be fair, he would by now probably have been arrested. And pretty much everyone - with some notable exceptions - in government and trade union circles was yesterday prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Those who doubted, and they were few, spoke of a man of integrity with a strong commitment to republicanism.

Nevertheless, as investigations continue into the links between the millions recovered this week and December’s Northern Bank robbery, spotlights will begin to shine on Mr Flynn’s past.

But to his credit his past has never been something Phil Flynn has tried to hide.

The son of a carpenter in Dundalk, a young Flynn grew up in a strong republican environment before going on to be elected vice president of Sinn Féin in 1980, where he worked alongside party president Ruairí Ó Bradaigh.

But long before that his noted negotiating talent and his republican credentials served him well when he acted as intermediary between the authorities and the kidnappers of Dr Tiede Herrema in 1975 - one of the most sensational criminal episodes in the history of the state.

His union involvement began in the mid-1960s in London and, returning home in 1967, he became assistant general secretary of the Irish Local Government and Public Services Union (LGPSU) rising to general secretary by 1984.

An impressive rise through union ranks saw him become general secretary of IMPACT and head up the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He was also one of the original architects of social partnership in the late 1980s.

But governments have not always looked as favourably on Phil Flynn as those led by Bertie Ahern and Charlie Haughey and Albert Reynolds.

Under the Fine Gael/Labour coalition from 1982 to 1987 Garret FitzGerald refused to deal with him at all despite his pivotal position as LGPSU general secretary.

Labour cabinet minister Barry Desmond publicly refused to meet him due to his lack of “political hygiene”.

By the same token his republican bloodline saw him involved in the background of the peace process as both a negotiator and sounding board for the Government.

But his remarkable transformation from former Sinn Féin leader and trade union boss to industrial consultant and political troubleshooter in the 1990s raised more than a few eyebrows at the time.

Subsequently, however, his solid successes as chief government fixer more than earned him the respect of most in government and union circles. “Bertie knows that if you want something done, Phil Flynn is a very good place to start,” said one source yesterday.

That statement is backed up by Mr Flynn’s track record. He has been called on to resolve some of the most hostile disputes of recent times, including those involving Ryanair baggage handlers, hospital nurses and junior doctors.

He also negotiated a survival strategy for Aer Lingus in 1993 and was a key mediator on the Team Aer Lingus dispute in 1994.

His stewardship of the Government’s decentralisation programme - a position he relinquished last night - is testimony to the level of trust he had achieved.

He is also a director of the company that developed Dublin’s €250m Park West, a director of the recently launched Daily Ireland newspaper and a member of the board of the VHI.

But with his name embroiled in controversy, whether warranted or not, Phil Flynn was last night a man with some thinking to do.

True to the spirit of his track record he was anxious to ensure his name does not do more damage than good.

Last evening, the master of all situations difficult went for a walk to make tough decisions. He chose to resign his position as Bank of Scotland (Ireland) chairman and the Government’s Decentralisation Implementation Group.

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