Golfgate: Narrative that Phil Hogan must stay because of his role in Brexit negotiations misses the point

Golfgate: Narrative that Phil Hogan must stay because of his role in Brexit negotiations misses the point
Phil Hogan, seen here in 2005 during the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am at Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort, Co. Limerick. Now a central figure in Brexit negotiations, some have argued his role is too vital for him to step aside. Photo: Dara Mac Dónaill/ Irish Times 

Ireland doesn't want to score an own goal. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Keep a calm head.

We've heard that narrative in recent days. We want to be reasonable, protect the team at home and let Phil Hogan stay in his role as EU Trade Commissioner in order that we are better insulated from whatever shockwaves Brexit sends around the continent. 

His role as Trade Commissioner makes him invaluable to the national effort.

But this narrative, becoming more and more popular with social media's self-appointed cooler heads, ignores a number of key points.

Firstly, it ignores that Mr Hogan himself was in the running for a new job just two months ago, when he pulled out of the running to become the new Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, a position then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar nominated him for.

If the government was so sure that only Phil Hogan could bring home a good Brexit deal for Ireland, that the Trade portfolio was so, so important to Ireland's survival as a nation, then why was he nominated for another role? 

Mr Varadkar may well have balanced the risks and decided that Mr Hogan's elevation to a world body would be better overall for Ireland, but it was never presented to the Irish people as a sacrifice he was willing to make.

Secondly, Mr Hogan's tangible benefit to Ireland in the trade talks is completely unknowable. There is every chance that as a former Irish government minister he is more attuned to the needs of Ireland in the talks and fights tooth and nail to bring home the best deal possible. 

But there is also the fact that these are multi-trillion euro talks and Mr Hogan is a Commissioner of the entire EU, not just Carlow-Kilkenny and its surrounds. To suggest that you are certain he is the only thing between Ireland and a bad deal is to possess more certainty than most.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it misses that conduct matters more than office.

If Mr Hogan and Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe are to remain in their positions, we send a message that if you reach the right office at the right time, the public will accept your conduct whatever the circumstances.

Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe.
Supreme Court judge Seamus Woulfe.

This would not be a "hounding" of anyone from office as former Court of Appeal judge Garrett Sheahan suggested. This is not about vitriol or anger. This is about two very senior men breaking public health guidelines at a time when every last bit of resolve is being tested across the country.

It is about the need for clear public statements to be made quickly on matters of national interest instead of them being drip-fed over the course of a number of days.

If people come to the conclusion that Mr Hogan's actions over the last weeks are not a resigning matter, that is their prerogative. It is not for me to tell them how to feel about any issue.

But the defence that he must be kept at all costs regardless of his actions is so weak it can barely hold its own weight and it reflects really poorly on us as a nation that we are willing to accept any level of behaviour from those entrusted to lead us at various levels if they're deemed important enough.

This is contrarianism masquerading as level-headedness, a reactive push against mob mentality because mobs are by their nature unruly and Lord knows we don't do unruly here.

This is not and never has been about claiming scalps, seeing a head roll just for the political theatre of it all. This is about what this sorry affair says about us and the standards we expect. You never, ever get the democracy you think you deserve - you get the one you demand.

Dara Calleary has won praise for doing the "honourable thing" and resigning as Agriculture Minister. It was seen as the only thing he could do to help the government stem the flow of outrage. He did so without dragging out the affair, or causing any kind of national distraction. Mr Hogan has done the opposite, forcing the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to call for him to consider his position before issuing a full apology.

Ireland doesn't have the power to sack Phil Hogan, but we have the power to say that he was wrong and that no office should protect him from the consequences.

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