Opinion: Phil Hogan needs to go

Phil Hogan (via Broadsheet)

Phil Hogan (via Broadsheet)

A government minister has sent a letter out to voters saying that a Nigerian family cannot be housed in a council house they are entitled to. Don’t worry, the letter says in essence, none of those blacks will be in your neighbourhood, dear loyal, white, constituent.

Imagine the outcry. Imagine the calls for the minister’s head. He would have to resign, and rightly so.

So what are we to make of Environment Minister Phil Hogan’s petition against a Traveller family, and the lack of outcry that has ensued?

Well, it was buried by the shock resignation of Roisin Shortall, but there’s more to it than that.

It’s no secret that prejudice against Travellers is practically mandatory in Ireland, particularly in rural areas. Phil Hogan is not the first politician to openly discriminate against them. But the lack of consternation shows us that anti-Traveller sentiment is the last acceptable prejudice in Ireland. It also tells us more about Minister Hogan and his unsuitability for a government role.

The Carthy family of nine moved in despite the minister’s efforts, and neighbours have reported no trouble or anti-social behaviour since they arrived. Interestingly, an anonymous neighbour told The Star that he himself had petitioned the Minister but when he had got to know the family, he realised that they were not troublemakers.

Defending Travellers is not a popular nor glamorous cause. Just witness last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne, where the presenter tried to get Limerick TD Kieran O’Donnell to admit that sending a letter discriminating against a minority is wrong. (“I don’t get paid enough for this,” Vincent eventually says in despair).

Yes. With rights come responsibilities. Not all Travellers accept this. Yes. Some Travellers rob, steal and leave unholy messes behind them. Some engage in anti-social behaviour. But is that fair on the Carthy family, who by all accounts lived in terrible conditions before their move, and have not caused trouble since? No it is not.

All Travellers have been tarred with the same brush. It is possible to accept that some aspects of Traveller culture should be challenged (sulky-racing, the young marriage age) but it is also possible to treat them as human beings, which they are. It’s appalling that in 2012 that prejudice such as this is socially acceptable.

What of Minister Hogan? His brother Paddy made the front page of several papers after he was allegedly beaten by Travellers after refusing them service in his bar. Yet, if Minister Hogan has issue with Travellers due to this or other reasons, it is inappropriate in the extreme to use public office to discriminate against them.

It’s not the first time that Phil Hogan has attracted controversy. The household charge and the septic tank fiasco have been disasters for Fine Gael. He once was forced to apologise to a former Fine Gael employee- a lady in her 70s- after making a lewd remark about her. Earlier this year, he refused to pay a similar charge to the household tax on a villa he owns in Portugal. He also texted “would u ever relax” [sic] a woman who complained she couldn’t pay the household charge because she was struggling to feed her children.

And just last week, he praised the efforts of Clare County Council, who tried to withhold grants from students whose parents hadn’t paid the household charge. Councils should use “whatever means necessary” to ensure compliance with the tax. Except that this method was quickly found to be illegal.

All these incidents have something in common. The people that Phil Hogan has picked on- with the possible exception of the Portuguese authorities- are in a position weaker than that of a government minister. This raises serious questions about Phil Hogan. It is fair enough to tell an opposition TD to “relax”. It is not fair to do so to a constituent that is entitled to respect and public service from politicians.

Like any stereotypical schoolyard bully, Minister Hogan tends to crumble in the face of opposition. The Carthys stood up to him, telling newspapers that Phil Hogan would be welcome in their home if he wanted to discuss the letter he sent out about them (coincidentally, he couldn’t even get their name right, calling them the McCarthys). He has not taken up this offer.

There was the capitulation which saw him reduce the septic tank charge from €50 to €5. The household charge has been far from a success, with 40% of people yet to pay.

In any other country, a minister such as this would be gone long ago. What ethnic minority or vulnerable person will Phil have to offend next so we can be rid of him?

Environment Minister Phil Hogan was in trouble earlier in the week for sending a letter to his constituents pledging that a Traveller family would not be housed near them. The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle argues it’s time he resigned… 

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