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Born and raised in Kiltullagh in County Galway, he studied at University College Galway, where he joined Fine Gael. He served as President of the Union of Students in Ireland between 1971 to 1972. After he finished his degree, he worked for the Rehab Group, a non-governmental organization, involved with providing care and education for people with disabilities. He became Chief Executive Officer of the group in 1981. He retired from the position in 2006.
In the aftermath of the 2002 general election, which was a disastrous election for Fine Gael, he authored the Flannery Report which proposed a series of changes in the organization and structure of the party. In 2002 he was made Fine Gael's director of Organisation and Strategy and was charged with implementing the report. The restructuring bore fruit for Fine Gael in the 2004 local elections and the 2007 general election, both of which saw gains for Fine Gael.
He served as National Director of Elections for Fine Gael in the 2009 local elections, which resulted in the party becoming the largest party of local government for the first time in its history. In June 2009 in the run up to the European and local elections, he caused controversy when he stated that Fine Gael would be willing to take part in a coalition government which would include Sinn Féin in order put Fianna Fáil out of government, a comment which was criticized within the party and led to his temporary demotion by party leader Enda Kenny.