Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan's ambitions for a second term have been damaged by the new trade deal that threatens Irish farming.
The Mercosur agreement, between South American nations and the EU, is coming under sustained criticism amid fears it will flood the bloc with substandard beef from countries such as Brazil.
Mr Hogan stood over the negotiation of the €90 billion deal over the weekend, insisting that the maximum number of concessions were achieved and that it would benefit other sectors.
“What I was trying to do over the last couple of months when the pressure came on was to try and limit the damage, but certainly I can understand the worries of farmers in relation to this deal.
“We’ve conceded some beef because we’ve had to make some concessions ... to get the €6 billion in savings in the industrial side over the line. But we’ve gained in the dairy sector which nobody has mentioned."
The former minister even called on worried farmers to read the draft deal document, which took two decades to negotiate.
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness told RTE that Mr Hogan “wasn't jumping for joy” over the deal, which it is expected will take two years to go before the EU trade council.
“He said very clearly 'we have had to make significant concessions to get a more balanced and comprehensive outcome'. He above all else will know that this is very bad for Irish beef farmers. He is saying that there will be support if things go wrong but that will ring hollow at a time when beef farmers feel that they are being got at from every single angle,” the four-time MEP said.
But in government circles, a blame game has broken out over the Mercosur deal, which will eventually allow some 99,000 tonnes of South American beef into the EU.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed was forced to take on criticism over the weekend, once the deal was announced on Friday. But other sources inside government were quick to point out that Mr Hogan had been at the centre of negotiations and had questions to answer.
Fianna Fáil went further, with party leader Micheál Martin saying the deal “flies in the face of the climate change agenda”.
“The fact that Phil Hogan has been championing this is a slap in the face for Irish farmers. It suggests to me he may be moving on from the agriculture portfolio if he is retained as the government's nominee as commissioner.”
But Fine Gael sources stress Mr Hogan is a “big player”, a “heavyweight” in Europe, that his reappointment in many ways is still a “slam dunk” and that a lot of the backlash over the deal would fall away after a week or two.
“We are not going to pluck someone from Cabinet for this. His reappointment solves a problem without creating a problem,” said one government insider.
Furthermore, there are hopes Ireland will get the position of trade within the commission and this is seen as more likely if someone of Mr Hogan's status is reappointed.