Big Phil’s Battle of Waterloo

Phil Hogan, Member of the EC in charge of Agriculture and Rural Development poses for an official portrait.

IT MAY be too late but it would not be at all surprising if Big Phil Hogan were to give up golf and dining as part of his New Year wishes for 2021.
And who could blame him?
For it was a combination of the former allied to a few car journeys that were to lead to an international incident that would see him falling on his sword.
Early indications that what was aptly christened Golfgate might be a mere storm in a tee-cup suggested that in no time at all the huffing and puffing about the now former EU Commissioner’s activities in his native country would be water under the bridge.
Don’t mention the war might have been Phil’s reaction if the latter were suggested to him.
While it was an Oireachtas Golf Society outing and grub up in Galway that were to lead to his quitting after what had to be the most hectic, traumatising week of his life, it will be his war to bring in water charges for which he may always be best remembered.

Hated charges
The latter will be right up there with Custer’s Last Stand and The Pass of Thermopylae and just might be his epitaph when Phil pops his clogs.
Hogan may feel that in his hour of need his Battle of Waterloo may have come back to haunt him as he got little support from the grassroots, ie the ordinary folk of Ireland.
If the son of Tullaroan hadn’t hardened us up as a people when he warned that he could reduce our water to a trickle as he fought to impose hated charges, then he might have got a more sympathetic public ear as he scrapped to save his EU career.
That he showed little mercy at the time, lashed into our people as if they were noisy neighbours didn’t help his cause as detractors set social media on fire with a combination of vitriol and anger that might even have upset the man who was credited with being thick skinned.
Phil who started out his life in farming tended to plough through what he saw as problems as opposed to talking his way out of them.
But, his razor-like tongue, when sharpened, could have the same effect as a gunslinger’s Colt 45.
Raspy tongue
Ironically, he had the gait of a gunfighter about to take on an enemy. He could easily have been Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp or Billy the Kid of another time.
He probably never toted a gun with the exception of his tender years in hurling legend Lory Meagher’s Tullaroan when he may have got a water pistol or a cap gun from Santa.
But he had other dubious gifts that may have brought him success and failure during 40 years in political life that catapulted him across Europe from the village of Tullaroan to the epicentre of Euro life that is Brussels, Belgium, the hot seat of a razzamatazz continent.
He could be quite pleasant but when the chips were down after the spuds had been peeled, he could stick you to a wall with a look and slice you to pieces with one swipe of his raspy tongue.
Friends and colleagues will say that he could be great company.
They will also confirm that he was an exceptional politician, a delivery man who, among other successes, helped to ensure the survival of Stephens Barracks in Kilkenny City, and championed the cause of Belview Port in South Kilkenny.
He was also responsible for securing the funding to build the most recent extension at St Luke’s General Hospital, a move that copper-fastened St Luke’s as the general hospital for the area.
He was a doughty scrapper in the giant boxing ring that at times can be the EU HQ in Brussels.
He wore a green jersey, jabbing, jabbing and jabbing again in the hope of landing a knockout blow for his country of birth.
He was a respected speaker and had made many friends in trade for Ireland. That those pals may now be history has to be a worry after his sudden departure.

Galvanised army
Farmers loved or loathed him depending on their mood. A plus for them was that the son of the soil obviously had a greater grá for rustic Ireland than he had for city heartlands and suburbia.
After many political scraps, most of which he won, the exception was his water charges project which he led with blood and thunder as his gale-force wind did its utmost to blow away any protests.
But his gargantuan crusade to browbeat people was to have the opposite effect as he became an icon of dislike, to put it mildly.
This served to galvanise a massive army of protest that turned its metaphorical water cannons on him and his hopes of success were soon drowned in a flood of marches that he simply didn’t have the wherewithal to halt.
The irony was that a warrior who tended to walk through a door, metaphorically speaking of course, in preference to opening it, was to fizzle out in an incident that started out as a social golf affair, continued as a war of words and died in a vale of tears in the midst of a pandemic.

Close to tears
Even the hardest of water charges campaigners may have been moved.
Phil was close to tears as he announced that he was to resign his post.
It was sad that his human face that mirrored humility and decency was visible only after the final chapter in a hard-working EU career.
Reasonably cool, calm and collected but with tears welling, he explained why he was moving on but was as defiant as only he can be as he declared his innocence.
The next time he is invited to play golf or join a dinner party with any motley mix of judges, myriad politicians, bankers, vulture funds and others who may sit comfortably under the umbrella of high society, he just may pass up the offer.
Once bitten and all that.
Where to from here?
Not an easy one to even guess but the notion is that at 60 he still has lots of energy and undoubted talent.

One of our own
He certainly won’t be hungry or thirsty, his EU wallet of departure will see to that so any Covid Unemployment Assistance will hardly be applied for.
As for the other 80 who were alleged to be wining and dining in Clifden, Galway, any witch hunt may continue.
That is the mood of our people.
Phil’s resignation that followed the sword fall by political colleague, Agricultural Minister Dara Calleary, another guest at the ill-fated party, may have opened a can of worms.
It may or should be asked why any of them should get away with acting the maggot at a time when a deadly invisible killer preys on our fear-ridden country that could be headed for another lockdown.
We should turn the other cheek and wish Phil well.
After all, whether we like it or not, he is one of our own.

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