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Interview with Phil Hogan, Minister for the Environment May 21, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics.
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Well, another Jason O’Toole political interview in the Mail on Sunday, this time with Environment Minister Phil Hogan. It’s a curious one, to put it mildly. It would be hard to think of a greater difference in character and outlook to the previous incumbent. Fair enough, but what of the contents…

“…I don’t have any relationship whatsoever in a personal, business, commercial sense, with Denis O’Brien. They got the notion I had some business relationships: not at all.’ The media, he says, are ‘putting one and one together’ and coming up with ‘five’.

Interesting. And what of this?

Mr Hogan smiles when I put it to him that he lived up to his monicker of ‘Cute Oul’ Phil’ when plans for a universal household charge were ‘coincidentally’ announced in the Dáil the day the Queen arrived. ‘People can read into the timing of that… but we had parliamentary questions on Tuesday and I just answered the question,’ he shrugs, still beaming. He acknowledges that this household charge, planned for next year, is ‘effectively a charge on property, for the purpose of providing local services’. It sounds like a flat-rate water charge – something he had vowed not to do. ‘There will be no flat-rate water charges. There will be water charges by meter in 2014 and beyond,’ he states categorically

And TINA and the previous occupants of Government Buildings are wheeled in as explanations…

‘We expect it will cost about €500m to roll out the metering programme over three years. The government hasn’t decided how we’re going to pay for the rollout. It’s not yet decided whether it will be from part of the proceeds of the household charge or the National Pension Reserve Fund or some other source.’ It still sounds like a service charge by another name and, therefore, a U-turn on water taxes. ‘But I’m obliged under the EU/IMF agreement to implement the four-year programme. And I have no choice only to bring in this household charge as it was part of the deal negotiated by Fianna Fáil. I would love to be in a position not to bring in any charge,’ he says.

No doubt.

What of the previous Minister?

On his own portfolio, Mr Hogan claims he inherited ‘a dysfunctional department’ from his predecessor, John Gormley. He accuses the former Green leader of ‘badly damaging’ Ireland’s reputation at EU level. ‘There was an enormous amount of legacy issues left to me, including 31 court rulings against Ireland from the European Court of Justice. He allowed them to fester and drag on for the last couple of years. ‘There was a huge amount of procrastinating with the result that we have no waste policy, no water policy, no reform of politics and local government and a damaged international reputation. ‘I also inherited a considerable difficulty in the processing of administration of foreshore applications which was preventing a lot of renewable energy projects, ironically, from being developed, which in turn had implications for the Green economy.’

And…

For ‘foreshore applications’ read ‘Poolbeg Incinerator’, the controversial project in Mr Gormley’s own constituency that the former Green leader successfully stalled throughout his term of office. ‘It’s ironic that a Green minister would actually leave that particular processing of an essential piece of infrastructure in such bad shape, considering the potential it had to meet a lot of his own policy objectives,’ says Mr Hogan, perhaps a little disingenuously. After all, all politics are local. ‘Effectively, he’s left so many legacy issues for me to repair – and the damage with the European Court of Justice and the European Union speaks for itself.’ Christened ‘the Enforcer’ ever since he saved Kenny’s bacon in the botched heave last year, such is his influence now that it’s rumoured the Taoiseach doesn’t make a move without consulting Hogan, his director of elections. So, when the new Environment Minister expresses his opinion, you can be sure he’s singing from the same hymn sheet as the Taoiseach. So, what are the key reforms he plans? ‘I would like to be in a position where we have much more appreciation of the quality of our environment. I’m working on a campaign to make Ireland clean, which is an anti-litter campaign.

Do go on Minister…

‘The indiscriminate and disrespectful view that some Irish people take of our environment in so many practical ways is disgraceful. I’m determined to bring in legislation if necessary and fines, as well as progressive positive policies to help clean up our environment. ‘Secondly, all the legacy issues in relation to our European Court of Justice rulings. The streamlining of the foreshore licence process [/code] and how we can deal with some of the legacy landfill and toxic sites around the country are also a priority for me. ‘Thirdly, I would like certainty about water quality, waste policy and local government policy where we have a stronger local government dimension, with a stronger democratic mandate for the 2014 local elections. I’m in favour of devolution of power from central government to local government.’ He says he is also looking at plans for several referenda – such as one on ‘reducing the term of the presidency from seven years to five years’; the children’s referendum; abolishing the Seanad and reducing the number of TDs to have ‘30% less numbers in the Oireachtas’ [implying a reduction of 15 TDs, to 151]; and also a referendum on ‘varying judges’ pay’. He also has plans for an elected Lord Mayor of Dublin with ‘meaningful powers’ by 2014.

And of climate change? Climate change? You know, the sort of existential issue? Nope, litter is number one on his list.

Not a word.

Safe hands, clearly.

And what of an old pal?

‘I don’t expect anybody would turn their back on a friend. I never would. I would have no difficulty – I would never abandon a friend in their hour of need.’

This friend being one Michael Lowry.

Erm, Lowry’s hour of need? ‘Certainly, anybody who has gone through the traumatic time – whether it was brought on by himself or otherwise – I certainly would have a degree of sympathy for him on a human level. ‘Fourteen years is a long time to be going through the trauma of a tribunal. That’s why I want to reform the system of tribunals of enquiry to ensure we have speedy resolution to these matters in the event of allegations being made in the future.’ Perhaps there is an element of ‘there but for the grace of God’ about Mr Hogan’s defence of his old friend, since Moriarty briefly had him in its crosshairs over a meeting with Denis O’Brien to discuss Esat Digifone’s bid that the Kilkenny TD insisted he could not recall – despite the fact that one of the other people present, Garret FitzGerald’s son Mark, recalled it in detail.

And…

‘Well, I certainly can’t recall any such meetings,’ he says. ‘That’s the honest view I gave to the Tribunal and they accepted that.’ It doesn’t look good when a politician says he can’t recall an event, I remark. ‘I can understand that. But I tried to portray in my submission to the Tribunal an honest appraisal and that was the way I did it. And I’m glad that the judge did not find any adverse comment or findings against me in that regard.’ But what about FitzGerald’s evidence? ‘You’ll have to ask him about that.’ Judge Moriarty described it as ‘coherent’. ‘Well, the judge did not find anything adverse in his findings against Minister Hogan and I’m very happy with the findings,’ he says, referring to himself in the third person. Is he saying FitzGerald’s version is inaccurate? ‘Well, I don’t know. All I can say is what’s in the report. He didn’t come down one way or the other. He certainly didn’t come down against Minister Hogan.’ So, I can say that as far as Phil Hogan is concerned, FitzGerald is wrong in his recollection? ‘You can’t say any such thing! Just read the Tribunal report. I made my submission and Mark FitzGerald made his and the judge had to come to conclusions. And he didn’t, in my case, find adversely against me. It’s a matter for others to make up their minds about anybody else.’

Hmmmm… and this last is so reassuring…

Christened ‘the Enforcer’ ever since he saved Kenny’s bacon in the botched heave last year, such is his influence now that it’s rumoured the Taoiseach doesn’t make a move without consulting Hogan, his director of elections. So, when the new Environment Minister expresses his opinion, you can be sure he’s singing from the same hymn sheet as the Taoiseach.

Comments»

1. Pidge - May 22, 2011

*shudders*

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2. Crocodile - May 22, 2011

Garret FitzGerald’s social democrat version of FG may not have been to the taste of most people on this site, but you can see why some of us old enough to have voted for, say, Monica Barnes in the 80s don’t think Garret was the worst.The Hogans are FG now – hard-nosed, proudly pragmatic, indistinguishable in policy from FF.’Integrity?’ – it’s more important to be loyal to your ‘friends’.
Hard to believe, incidentally, that Hogan is ten years younger than Kenny.

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3. Crocodile - May 22, 2011

Hogan put on the spot by Henry Mountcharles on Marian Finucane.

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Jack Jameson - May 25, 2011

But he dragged Garret FitzGerald’s dead body in front of him to dodge Mountcharles’s bullets, claiming that questions were inappropriate on the day of Garret’s funeral. What rubbish!

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4. D_D - May 23, 2011

Do you remember the bumptious, convivial Phil Hogan of before the election? Did you hear him on Marion (yet another right wing panel) Finucine yesterday? Cold, flat-voiced, heartless and determined. But yes, Henry Mountcharles, of all people, did put him on the spot.

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5. Jim Monaghan - May 23, 2011

” he says, referring to himself in the third person.”
Thios is also a Lowry trait. Other examples?

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6. Eoin - May 24, 2011

He complains that EU rulings haven’t been transcribed into Irish law, but lobbied for that to happen with regards to turf cutting in SACs.

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7. Ryano - May 25, 2011

For the record, the number of EU infringement cases against Ireland decreased by a third during John Gormley’s time as Minister, so Hogan’s charges on that score are entirely baseless. If he can achieve the same in the next 3.5 years he’ll be doing well.

As for “badly damaging Ireland’s reputation at an EU level”, when it came to implementation of environmental legislation Ireland had no reputation to damage. Gormley held regular meetings with EU Environment Commissioners on the specific issue of Ireland’s legacy of cases and gave his personal commitment to closing off as many cases as possible.

I’m not without sympathy for Hogan, as the legacy is indeed toxic, but his determination to lay it all at John Gormley’s door is misguided and indeed petty. Of course I could dig out all the PQs from Fine Gael TDs asking the Minister to ease up on the implementation of this or that directive but that would just be petty on my part.

I also wonder what the staff in the Department think of his claim that he inherited a “dysfunctional department”.

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8. “You will be assimilated resistance is futile” | Machholz's Blog - May 31, 2011

[…] Interview with Phil Hogan, Minister for the Environment (cedarlounge.wordpress.com) […]

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9. Look on my works, ye mighty and despair… it’s Phil Hogan. « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - August 31, 2011

[…] as noted previously Hogan as Minister of the Environment, Community and Local Government is a man whose ambitions in his chosen area seem …erm… […]

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