Ireland’s housing minister calls for EU Trade Commissioner to quit

Ireland’s housing minister said that the EU’s Trade Commissioner should resign after he attended a controversial golf event in the west of the country.

Pressure has been building on Phil Hogan to step down from the EU role.

Mr Hogan is a senior Irish politician with significant standing in Brussels who would be deeply involved in any deal with Britain after Brexit.

Darragh O'Brien
Darragh O'Brien

On Monday, the country’s Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that Mr Hogan should take responsibility for his actions.

The commissioner has also been urged to consider his position by the leaders of Ireland’s coalition Government, Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar, after attending a dinner at a hotel in the west of Ireland with more than 80 people present.

Police are investigating whether coronavirus regulations were broken in holding the Irish parliament’s golf society event two days after the Government announced it intended to curb the numbers permitted to gather together.

Coronavirus – Mon Aug 17, 2020
Coronavirus – Mon Aug 17, 2020

Mr O’Brien also criticised the “drip feed” of information about Mr Hogan’s movements in Ireland.

“That’s unhelpful to say the least. The commissioner needs to realise how rightly people are so angry about this event and his participation in it,” he added.

He urged Mr Hogan to look to Dara Calleary who resigned as Minister for Agriculture less than 48 hours after attending the event.

He also disputed claims that his removal from the high profile post would not be in Ireland’s interest because of Mr Hogan’s role in the Brexit negotiations.

“I think to pin all our hopes on one individual is simplistic,” Mr O’Brien added.

“I don’t really think that argument as a justification for the commissioner to stay on stand up. I understand the point that’s being made, but frankly our hopes and our strategy in relation to Brexit in the next few months are not just pinned on one individual.”

A resurgence in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks has led Ireland to backtrack on some of its measures reopening society after lockdown.

Mr Martin and his deputy Mr Varadkar have asked Mr Hogan to consider his position.

An Irish Government statement said: “They both believe the event should never have been held, that the commissioner’s apology came late and that he still needs to give a full account and explanation of his actions.”

1) I attended the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner on Wednesday on the clear understanding that the organisers and the hotel concerned had been assured [by the Irish Hotels’ Federation] that the arrangements put in place would be in compliance with the government’s guidelines.

— Phil Hogan (@PhilHoganEU) August 21, 2020

Mr Hogan has apologised for attending the event.

It is EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen who would have to force his resignation.

The leader of Ireland’s opposition Labour Party, Alan Kelly, said: “It is incumbent on Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Tanaiste Leo Varadkar to now inform the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen that they no longer have confidence in the Irish commissioner Phil Hogan and that she should ask for his resignation pursuant to Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union.”

The article says a member of the commission shall resign if the president makes the request.

Mr Hogan is the EU’s former agriculture commissioner and oversaw significant reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Trade is a central issue in the EU’s efforts to build agreement with the UK to mitigate any ill-effects from Brexit.

The commissioner is a native of Kilkenny in the south-east of the country and a former Irish environment minister for Fine Gael.

It has also emerged that Mr Hogan was stopped by Irish police while driving in Kildare on August 17 for using his mobile phone.

A spokesperson told RTE the incident happened while he was en route from Kilkenny to Kildare to collect personal belongings and essential documents at his apartment there before driving on to Galway for the golf event.

The spokesperson said: “The lockdown guidelines for Kildare provide for exceptional travel outside the county ‘to travel to work and home again’.”