Irish MEPs turn up the heat on Phil Hogan

Enda Kenny isn’t the only one having his commitment to "new politics" questioned these days. Look at poor Phil Hogan, who thought he had sailed away from all that stuff, into the lucrative waters of the EU Commission.

Irish MEPs turn up the heat on Phil Hogan

Big Phil is going before the European Parliament’s Agriculture committee next Thursday to explain why he should be given the ‘agri’ portfolio. Some of the MEPs are not best pleased with the big guy’s most recent efforts to bury any queries on how he conducted himself as a member of the Irish government.

He’s being pursued by Nessa Childers, who is refusing to pull on the green jersey and get behind our man in Brussels. She apparently doesn’t understand that what happens in the banana republic should stay in the banana republic. Instead, she is intent on telling tales about the morally bankrupt political culture we endure here.

Childers isn’t the only Irish MEP refusing to pull on the jersey. Five of the 11 MEPs elected last May in the Republic are objecting to Hogan’s appointment. This is unprecedented, but at least it’s a sign that some politicians are willing to break out of the cozy consensus around this kind of thing.

The three Sinn Féin members and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan have numerous objections to Hogan, which involve relatively routine political stuff, like questionable appointments to state boards, and his handling of the establishment of Irish Water. The members believe the issues they raise render Hogan unfit for commissionership.

On the face of it, these matters would not be alien to politicians in general across the EU, but at least the objections signal that a new form of Irish politics may be breaking out, albeit in isolated patches. Quaint notions like suitability for a particular office were promised by the current government as part of their “democratic revolution” on election in 2011, and while that has turned out to be a joke, at least others in the body politic are signing up.

Childers has differed from the other nay-saying MEPs in actually writing to all 191 members of the Social Democrats group in the parliament outlining her “serious reservations” about Hogan. Her specific beef is with Hogan’s role in attempting to stop a family, including seven young children, being housed in his constituency, because others in the area objected to them on the basis of their lineage.

Hogan has attempted to shut down all reference to that 2012. incident. He threatened Childers with legal action over the letter she wrote to the MEPs about the matter. Prior to his nomination, he refused to answer questions about it, citing pending legal action he had initiated against various people over their coverage of the incident.

In a litigious society like ours, the mere mention of legal action is often enough to shut down a line of inquiry. That may not be Hogan’s intention, but it is certainly a tactic that others have used in the past. It’s quite obvious that the whole incident is now an embarrassment to this putative giant of the EU.

While he can threaten legal action about commentary on the matter, he can’t do anything about the facts.

In May 2012, Hogan’s office made representations to Kilkenny County Council not to house a Traveller family, Patrick and Brigid Carthy and their seven children, in a house in the area of Bonnetstown. At that point, the family were living in a halting site, and were in line for allocation of a house.

Hogan claims that the concerns of neighbours in the area, whom he represented, centred on anti-social behaviour, rather than the fact that the family were Travellers. Apparently, Patrick Carthy had grown up in the area and his father had been involved in a dispute with a local man 20 years earlier, when Patrick Carthy was 12-years-of-age. In effect, the local TD, minister and general bigwig, was making representations to the council to refuse a house to constituents on the basis of the alleged sins of the father. The minister, whose Environment portfolio includes housing, did not suggest alternative accommodation for this family entitled to have a roof over their heads. He just wanted it known that some of his other constituents didn’t want these people living next to them.

On May 29, Hogan’s office wrote back to the constituents and assured them that the Carthy family would not be housed in their allocated new home. The letter named the family (even managing to attribute them the name McCarthy instead of Carthy). An inference could be drawn that naming somebody who is classified as somehow undesirable, on the basis of their lineage, might well be slanderous. But then, Hogan’s office dealt with this manner with zero sensitivity towards the family in question, and quite obviously gave zero thought to the fact that it could give rise to a perception that the family were being discriminated against because of their ethnic origin.

In any event, the council ignored Hogan’s plea, but the main thing from the politician’s point of view is that a letter went out to his constituents showing that he felt their care.

All of this went on against a background in which a few weeks earlier another Traveller family, in another part of Kilkenny, were burnt out of the new home into which they were moving. Michael McDonagh and his five children had moved their possessions into the new house in Kilmacow, but, thankfully weren’t in situ on the night of the arson attack. Local councillors had made representations to the council not to house that particular family.

The basis for such objections are unclear as council officials confirmed the family in question had no record of bad behaviour. Hogan had no input into the McDonagh case, but neither did he, as the local political bigwig and senior government minister, express any concern about what can only be classified as an outrage.

Through it all, it appears that Hogan was merely doing what he regarded as his duty as a local representative. Arguably, he had a greater duty as a senior government minister whose portfolio included “community”, not to mention housing. The actions of his office suggest that priority was given to the parish pump stuff.

These matters are quite proper for a committee of the European Parliament to explore to assess whether Hogan is a suitable candidate for a commissionership. He has failed to adequately answer queries about it in this jurisdiction.

Childers has received three legal missives from big tough Phil’s lawyers, and last week formally complained about his course of action to the parliament’s legal affairs committee. In all likelihood, the commissioner-elect will ride out the storm, but once again, another member of that bright, new shining government of 2011 has been a major disappointment. Wherefore now the new politics of the “democratic revolution?” Unlike his former colleagues though, big Phil will be insulated from it all out there in Brussels.

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