Phil Hogan: blaming the last guy

A recent Mail on Sunday interview with Phil Hogan, the new Minister for the Environment, is discussed on the Cedar Lounge Revolution. The interview contains a number of attacks by Hogan on his predecessor, John Gormley, for example:

“On his own portfolio, Mr Hogan claims he inherited ‘a dysfunctional department’ from his predecessor, John Gormley. He accuses the former Green leader of ‘badly damaging’ Ireland’s reputation at EU level. ‘There was an enormous amount of legacy issues left to me, including 31 court rulings against Ireland from the European Court of Justice. He allowed them to fester and drag on for the last couple of years. ‘There was a huge amount of procrastinating with the result that we have no waste policy, no water policy, no reform of politics and local government and a damaged international reputation. ‘I also inherited a considerable difficulty in the processing of administration of foreshore applications which was preventing a lot of renewable energy projects, ironically, from being developed, which in turn had implications for the Green economy.’”

I’m not without sympathy for Hogan, as it must be a shock to take office and learn the full extent of Ireland’s failure over the decades to properly implement the European environmental legislation to which it has signed up. However his determination to lay it all at John Gormley’s door needs to be challenged. For the record, the number of EU infringement cases against Ireland decreased by a third during John Gormley’s time as Minister, so Hogan’s charges on that score are entirely baseless. If he can achieve the same in the next 3.5 years he’ll be doing well.

As for “badly damaging Ireland’s reputation at an EU level”, when it came to implementation of environmental legislation Ireland had no reputation to damage. Gormley held regular meetings with successive EU Environment Commissioners on the specific issue of Ireland’s legacy of cases and gave his personal commitment to closing off as many cases as possible. A number of cases which were very close to the stage where fines were to be sought against Ireland were closed, saving the state millions.

If I were feeling mean-minded, of course, I could dig out a series of parliamentary questions from Fine Gael TDs asking the Minister to ease up on the implementation of this or that directive.

The criticism on the processing of foreshore applications is even more unfair, given that John Gormley began the process of modernising a consent process that hadn’t changed substantially since the 1930s. He only assumed responsibility for foreshore licensing in 2010, and significant strides were made in putting in place a transparent process for assessing these applications, in parallel with the development of new foreshore legislation (which Hogan will presumably continue to progress). Prior to 2010 the function had been in the Department of Agriculture, which transferred over a massive backlog of applications to the Department of the Environment in 2010. I think any applicant will confirm that the transparency of the process increased greatly following the transfer.

Finally, I have to wonder what the staff in the Department think of his claim that he inherited a “dysfunctional department”.

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