Phil Hogan has reason to be aggrieved over von der Leyen’s Covid quarantine trip

EC president drove five hours from Belgium, through Netherlands, to Hanover

It’s a shame former EU commissioner Phil Hogan wasn’t able to get up to Glenties this year for the annual MacGill windfest.

We all know how Big Phil likes to get out and about when he’s back in Ireland.

But he seems to have recovered well following his disastrous summer golfing odyssey around Ireland – the unalloyed highlight of which would have been him winning a George Foreman grill at the Oireachtas Golfgate Society’s Covid outing in Connemara, if he hadn’t ended up losing his job in Europe at the end of it all. He was in good form delivering his web address to the dreary politics “summer” school which has migrated online for this year.

Hogan’s agreeable mood was commendable given developments in Brussels concerning his erstwhile boss Ursula von der Leyen and her meanderings far and wide during a pandemic while supposed to be self-isolating.


Big Phil has good reason to feel aggrieved at having to resign from his trade commissioner job over his attendance at the golf dinner. Accepting his resignation, the EC president said she expected members of the commission “to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules or recommendations”.

Last week, von der Leyen abruptly abandoned Thursday’s European Council meeting to go into self-isolation because a member of her staff had tested positive for Covid. But while in quarantine, she dropped completely from the radar. No news as to her whereabouts.

This week, journalists in Brussels finally managed to solve the mystery of the missing Ursula, prising the information from a vague-sounding spokesperson. The commission president lives in the Berlaymont Building in Brussels, but fled to her hometown of Hanover, a five-hour drive from Belgium, nipping through the Netherlands and on into Germany. This was not disclosed to the media.

Her spokesperson insisted von der Leyen followed all the rules and went into “preventative self-isolation” with is not the same as quarantine. She left the EU summit moments before she was due to update the heads of government on the Brexit talks with the UK out of “an abundance of caution” and to protect the other leaders, an action which would indicate a level of concern about her situation.

Apparently von der Leyen, who tested negative for the virus, travelled to Hanover in an official car with precautionary measures in place. The spokesperson is not sure when she will return.

Big Phil must be wondering why Brussels wasn’t so understanding of his plight.

Never mind. He’s pursuing other avenues of employment now, he told Prof Brigid Laffan, who interviewed him online from Italy.

But there’s no rush on Phil.

His last turn at MacGill was in 2018. “A lot has changed since then, and certainly 2020 has been a year like no other – not least for myself!” he quipped.

At end of the session, the Florence-based academic asked the former commissioner what he intends doing next.

It looks like there’s more golf on the horizon. Big Phil is taking a “little bit of a breather” for the first time in 38 years and doing nothing for the rest of the year.

But the phone hasn’t stopped ringing.

With his invaluable network of political contacts and top-level international experience, he knows he is a marketable commodity.

“I’ve had a lot of contacts from around the world from various people who wanted to talk to me. All I advised them was to make their submissions and I’ll have a good look at them – but not until the 1st of January, 2021.”

It’s not for nothing he isn’t known as Humility Hogan.

“So, if you know anybody in the Italian region, Brigid, interested in a man of enormous experience and a good address book, I’m your man.”

Micheál’s policy guru makes the move across the Liffey

Policy wonk wanted in Merrion Street.

Must be able to get on with Cork people.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is a man down in his inner circle following the departure of special advisor and Fianna Fáil head of research Kevin Dillon, who is leaving to work for the Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien. Dillon was a key member of the party’s negotiating team after the last two general elections, and there was no surprise when Martin appointed him as an advisor after he got the top job.

Very much the policy man, Kildare native Dillon will be taking a keen interest in the upcoming US presidential election having interned on Capitol Hill in his younger years in the office of then senator Barack Obama.

Persuading him to cross the Liffey from Government Buildings to the Customs House was a smart move by the Minister: Dillon graduated from TCD with a first class honours degree in History and Politics before moving on to UCD to complete his Masters in Regional and Urban Planning. Last year, when O’Brien was party spokesman on housing, he decided to write a book in collaboration with Dillon on home ownership in Ireland, but when he pitched the idea to publishers it was rejected.

Obviously it was mere coincidence that Darragh came up with the idea to produce his tome on housing in the wake of the very well-received and widely sold book on social housing by Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman, Eoin Ó Broin.

Terrible bad luck on the timing front for Darragh, even if some people unkindly thought that Eoin’s successful opus might have had something to do with the decision to bring out a Fianna Fáil version and its subsequent failure to make it into print.

“Kevin knows his housing inside out,” conceded a colleague in Government Buildings. “It was a good poach by Darragh but we’ll miss him here.”

Also on the move is former Fine Gael junior minister Paudie Coffey, who lost his seat in Waterford in 2016 and landed a seat in Seanad Éireann as one of taoiseach Enda Kenny’s nominees. He announced last December he was quitting politics after 20 years to spend more time with his family.

Paudie was involved in a high-profile court action the previous year when he sued the Kilkenny People for defamation over an article published during the 2016 election campaign featuring comments from party colleague John Paul Phelan who had issued a press release likening him to an infamous 18th-century robber from the area in a row over boundary changes in their adjoining constituencies.

The jury couldn’t reach a verdict and the case was subsequently settled.

Coffey has joined forces with his former advisor Paul Fox when he was a junior minister for housing and set up Pinnacle Public Affairs, “a new consultancy firm combining over 30 years’ experience in public affairs, public policy development and implementation, and strategic communications”. Fox went on to work as a special advisor to Helen McEntee when she was minister of State for Europe.

“Based in Ireland, Pinnacle Public Affairs has an extensive network at local and national levels of Government in Ireland and at EU level. Founded by former Irish minister Paudie Coffey and Irish government adviser Paul Fox, the company aims to deliver on our clients’ goals: understanding their objectives; developing tailored solutions; and targeting the appropriate audiences for maximum success.”

Somehow I don’t think they’ll be getting John Paul Phelan to help out with writing press releases.

He wrote the book on Irish politics

Still on the subject of books, our former political editor Stephen Collins has written another one.

Our Noble Struggle is a fascinating history of Irish socialism and republican activism with an engaging foreword by Gerry Adams and ringing endorsements from Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger on the dust jacket.

Only joking!

Saving the State – Fine Gael from Collins to Varadkar is co-written by Collins and historian Ciara Meehan, who is a leading authority on the party.

Told through the lens of its leaders and taoisigh (former taoiseach, current Tánaiste and taoiseach-in-waiting Leo Varadkar has much to say), Saving the State chronicles the wilderness years and the achievements in government, the defeats and crises, the partnerships and the leadership upheavals that have shaped Fine Gael over the decades.

Dr Dave has given it a thumbs up.

“A superb, illuminating and even-handed look at the highs and lows in Fine Gael’s turbulent history,” writes historian David McCullagh, author of De Valera: Rise and De Valera: Rule. He also moonlights of an evening out in RTÉ, co-anchoring the Six-One News with Caitríona Perry.

Irish Times columnist Collins has written numerous books on Irish political history including The Cosgrave Legacy, Spring and the Labour Party, The Haughey Files and Breaking the Mould – How the PDs Changed Irish Politics.

Ciara Meehan is reader in history and an associate dean at the University of Hertfordshire and her books include The Cosgrave Party: a History of Cumann na nGaedheal, 1923-33 and A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987.

Saving the State hits the shops from Thursday (the ones which are open) and is available now from your favourite local online booksellers, who need all the support they can get to stay afloat in this awful time for retailers.

No hands across the water due to Covid

The list of casualties of the pandemic keeps on growing.

Spare a thought for all the TDs and Senators who are members of the many inter-parliamentary friendship groups in Leinster House. These are the mini-committees of Dáil and Seanad members which foster comradely relations with politicians from other parliaments around the world.

There would usually be a trip or three involved, all in the cause of fact-finding and fostering greater understandings. Canada, China, New Zealand, Spain, Russia, Croatia, Iran, Australia . . . Loads of them.

But no foreign travel allowed for the foreseeable. It’s a shame.

It came as a surprise to us that the Irish-American Parliamentary Friendship Group was only set up last year. Needless to say, butter-upper-in-chief of Irish Americans on Capitol Hill, Kerry-based senator Mark Daly, was a leading light in its establishment. The body liaises between the Oireachtas and the US Congress and has two convenors, one from the Seanad and one from the Dáil.

Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe and Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne were appointed as Irish co-convenors this week, filling the vacancies left by former TD Frances Fitzgerald, who is now an MEP, and Daly, who was elected Seanad Cathaoirleach earlier this year.

Or Speaker Daly, as he is known in DC.

The US co-convenors are congressmen Richie Neal and Peter King. Covid willing, Neal will be coming to Ireland next year at the invitation of the Oireachtas.

McAuliffe and Byrne are no strangers to US politics. The two Fianna Fáilers first met in 2007 on a Boston College young political leaders’ programme, spending time between Boston and Washington DC.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday