Criticism of the government’s nomination of Phil Hogan as Ireland’s EU Commissioner has tended to focus on his lobbying, in 2012, to prevent a Traveller family accessing social housing. On this basis, independent MEP Nessa Childers has reasonably described the nomination as a “step backwards for equality”. The other main strand of criticism concerns his signing off on bloated consultancy payments for the establishment of Irish Water, an issue that Sinn Fein in particular is highlighting. Again, the criticism is legitimate and important, as is the fact that he spent the summer appointing former Fine Gael and Labour councillors to state boards and that he quashed inquiries into planning irregularities (including in his own fiefdom of Carlow) when he took office as Minister for the Environment.
But the problem with Hogan goes well beyond anti-Traveller racism, the wasting of public money, the dishing out of sinecures to political cronies, and taking a relaxed approach to dodgy planning. Most Irish politicians engage in all of the above. Hogan’s real importance lies in his being a prime exemplar of the noxious nexus between political and corporate power in Ireland.
The Moriarty Tribunal in 2011 concluded that former Minister Michael Lowry had “an insidious and pervasive influence” over the awarding of a mobile phone licence to Denis O’Brien’s East Digifone consortium. In fact, the tribunal described Lowry’s conduct as “profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breath-taking”. Lowry was an honoured guest at Hogan’s 50th birthday party in July 2010, and only days after the publication of the Moriarty report Hogan had an official meeting with Lowry – allegedly to discuss unrelated matters. But then this should not be so surprising, Hogan has form here. As Jody Corcoran has reported, “Hogan was personally engaged in the extraction of at least two significant sums of money from O’Brien, or his companies or associates, for Fine Gael at or around the time of the granting of the licence”. Coincidentally, Siteserv – an O’Brien-owned company that had substantial debts it owed to now state-owned Anglo Irish Bank (i.e., you and me) written off – has won some of the contracts to install water meters in Ireland, water charges of course being another of Hogan’s legacies to us.
O’Brien (whom Hogan ‘ran into’ at the Mount Juliet Golf and Country Club in March of this year) is not the only controversial businessman Hogan has been associated with. In the 2000s, Michael Fingleton, the former head of Irish Nationwide Building Society, personally approved a loan of €450,000 to Hogan to allow him buy a house in Dublin 4, with Hogan having to repay only the interest on the loan for a decade. Fingleton then lent him €430,000 to buy a Portuguese holiday home on the same generous repayment terms. An Irish Independent report on the matter charmingly described the second loan as having been processed with “what appears to have been… minimal paperwork”. How probable was it that we would ever have had a serious banking inquiry when a senior government minister had personally profited from the shady practices that created the property and banking crisis in the first place?
In February 2009, Hogan declined to follow his party leader’s example and take a 5% cut in his €110,000 salary, stating that “my personal circumstances don’t allow that at the moment”. (God knows how dire his personal circumstances would have been if he had been obliged to meet a normal repayment schedule on his property loans). In April 2012, a Kilkenny woman texted him to complain of the hardship the household charge was causing her, to which he responded “would you ever relax and feed the children”. The man is demonstrably a hypocrite, a boor and a thug (appropriate enough qualifications for an EU Commissioner these days). But, even more importantly, he is the embodiment of the crony capitalist links between business and politics in Ireland, links that are forged and greased through political donations, personal favours and friendships, opaque meetings and secretive business dealings. In that sense, Hogan is the perfect representative of the Irish elite and an eminently apt person to fulfil that representative role in Brussels.
Photo of Phil Hogan entering the Moriarty Tribunal to appear as a witness in 2003 courtesy of Broadsheet.
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