The commissioner-designate knew what he had to do. So for the day that was in it, he kept the lid on Big Phil and went heavy on the Humble Hogan.
Some non-Irish observers thought he came across as a bit cocky and overconfident during his job interview in the European Parliament yesterday, when MEPs quizzed him on his suitability for the agriculture portfolio. But then they never knew Phil Hogan when he was minister for the environment.
After presenting himself in a clean shirt and new suit to undergo his morning session of “democratic scrutiny”, Hogan had to wait while members of the agriculture committee met privately to decide on his qualifications. By mid-afternoon, he got the nod.
Big Phil – or Commissioner Hogan as he now is – had bagged his dream job. Back home, while his party is reeling from a series of political clangers and the leader he looked out for flounders in his absence, big cheese Phil is settling into a palatial office in Europe with five handsomely salaried years ahead of him.
It soon became clear he had done his homework. He was impressively well-prepared. This probably explains why he dropped off the radar recently. Not a peep out of him. Didn’t even celebrate Kilkenny’s All-Ireland win.
Locked up for days on end in a darkened room, it seems, swotting up on every aspect of European and global agriculture policy while undergoing a crash course in humility and learning how to ease back on the swagger.
As a result, he delivered one of the best ever performances from a hothouse flower. Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy and Independent MEP Ming Flanagan had promised to hit him with some home truths as they saw it, raising awkward highlights from the former minister's domestic career.
But Hogan, relaxed and confident, talked around them. He smoothly hit Carthy – who opposed his nomination — with a sucker punch by sweetly referring to the “generous letter” of congratulation sent to him by Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. Then a flash of the political bruiser: “There seems to be a little breakdown of discipline in Sinn Féin and I hope you won’t get into trouble over it.”
Carthy glowered; the MEPs guffawed and gave Phil a round of applause.
Ming, meanwhile, accused Hogan of looking after the rich “rancher” farmers, prompting an outraged politician from Denmark to shout “communist!” at him. He also asked about Hogan, when environment minister, sending CVs on behalf of constituents to the boss of Irish Water when the company was recruiting staff.
Hogan flippantly brushed it off. None of the people concerned got a job “so I must be losing my influence with the company I set up”. Outside, Ming correctly wondered “what influence used he have?”
Later on, the soon to be installed commissioner remarked: ”That’s representational politics, in the Irish sense.”
By the time he had finished, we were so proud of little Ireland and of how, through Phil, we will be carrying our illustrious model of clean, open and accessible politics to greater Europe. Enda Kenny's Fine Gael enforcer told his large euro zone audience how he intends to be "as accountable and as transparent as is humanly possible". He wants to work closely with all the MEPs because he treasures their experience and knowledge and wishes to use it to the full. Of course he intends to co-operate fully with the parliament's agriculture committee. Openness, transparency, accountability to beat the band.
Good communication is very important to Phil too. Again, something he would have learned at the shoulder of Enda, who is currently giving masterclasses in the subject.
“Let me be very clear: the one thing simplification is not is simple!” said Phil in his opening soundbite, before going on to say how he wanted to develop “ideas for a simplification and subsidiarity strategy for the Cap in accordance with general regulatory fitness principles (Rl)”
Before the hearing began, Adam Siekierski, the Polish chairman of the agriculture committee, outlined the rules of engagement. ”All speakers can therefore use their mother tongue” he said, via our translator. Phil only used his mother tongue once – “ní neart go cur le chéile” as he soft-soaped the MEPs on his way to winning their approval. “We are strongest when we work together.” Again, just like FG back home.
As for the debate, it was held “in accordance with the ping-pong principle.” Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness – the woman who many feel is more qualified than Phil for the commissioner’s job – opened the session by pinging a question about vegetable prices at him. Hogan ponged back with a very comprehensive answer, stopping just short saying “I’m glad you asked me that …”
He was supposed to have some supporters along for his big interview. There was a nameplate in place for his pal Humphrey Deegan, a former FG councillor from west Cork. But he was a no show.
Humphrey made news during the local elections when he was allegedly assaulted while out canvassing for a party colleague.
Fine Gael Senator Pat O’Neill flew over to watch, making him the most high-profile member of The Kilkenny Massive to attend. “I’m here to support Phil,” he told us afterwards. “He did great.”
We also ran into former Fianna Fáil minister Dick Roche, looking as pleased with himself as ever. He's a Brussels lobbyist now. "That went well," he declared happily.
There were a few refugees from the Máire Geogheghan-Quinn era hanging around the place as well. British MEP Paul Bannen was taking a big interest in the hearings. He tweeted a photograph of Hogan with the message “Phil Hogan, Irish commissioner designate for agriculture looks a bit like Mikhail Gorbachev.” Whatever about that, he looked like a happy man by the end of the day. Wonder does Enda now wish he went for a big job in Europe too?