Profile: Phil Hogan a more subtle operator than persona suggests

Kenny-loyalist credited with helping defeat Richard Burton’s leadership challenge

 

Phil Hogan is, physically, what a sports coach would describe as a ‘big unit’.

He stands nearly six and half feet tall and this has contributed to the persona of ‘Big Phil’, an inaccurate persona of a blunt politician lacking subtlety.

Yet his rise in Irish politics has every bit as much to do with his skills as a strategist and his electoral nous as the reputation as a political hardman.

An example of this was his calmness in orchestrating Enda Kenny defence of a leadership challenge from Richard Burton in 2010.

In one of the key moments in the heave nine senior Fine Gael spokespeople went into a front-bench meeting demanding Kenny’s resignation.

Before they could speak, Kenny fired them all and suspended the meeting.

Hogan was credited with this tactic, allowing Kenny seize the initiative and back-footing his opponents

Similarly, Hogan, alongside Mark Mortell and Frank Flannery, took a key role in the slick Fine Gael election campaign in 2011 in which the party returned to power and came close to an overall majority.

He is a huge enthusiast for social media and new technology, which the party used to good effect in that campaign.

Yet as Minister for the Environment and Local Government, he has not been so assured and to return briefly to the sporting analogy, was winded badly by heavy knocks following badly thought-through decisions around the introduction of the local property tax and water charges.

And even though the compliance percentage rose, the low take-up at the start was politically damaging and handed the initiative to his rivals. The efficiency (and ruthlessness) of Revenue and its property tax showed that up.

There was a perception too that Hogan was a climate sceptic and there has certainly been some long-fingering with the climate legislation (and the Government is also looking for a free pass for agriculture) but the bill should be published (finally) by the end of this year.

On his own initiative he has introduced a far-seeing reform to address the unacceptable under-representation of women in Irish politics.

He has also grasped the nettle of reducing the number of TDs in the Dáil (although not by the 20 he originally promised) and merging county councils.

His reform of local government, especially the abolition of town councils, has been more controversial.

The fashion for slashing numbers and culling quangos among the political class (and in the public sector, nobody ever gets fired, just transferred) has come and gone with so-so results. It remains to be seen if getting rid of town councils is a short-term gain that may lead to long-term pain.

The Kilkenny TD has been in politics for over 30 years but is just 54.

After attending UCC, he set up an auctioneering business in Urlingford, Co Kilkenny but in reality, since 1982, politics has been his life.

A leading figure in Young Fine Gael, he progressed quickly through the ranks.

He was elected to the Seanad in 1987 and to the Dáil in 1989 and has comfortably retained his seat in each election since then.

Within five years, he was promoted and became a junior minister in the Department of Finance when the Rainbow Coalition was formed in 1994.

However, he resigned in February 1995 after taking responsibility for an early leak of important information from the budget.

After Kenny assumed the party leadership in 2002, Hogan became a key member of his inner team a relationship that become more apparent after the 2007 election. He has a real passion for the electoral process and local government and was responsible for some radical papers on reform, including the Constitutional Convention and significant cuts in representation.

Seanad abolition was not his idea, however.

Ironically, Hogan has never had a responsibility as a spokesman for agriculture. That said, his constituency is as rural as they come.