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From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials
Date: September, 2020
By: Editorial

The Phil Hogan Debâcle

The most representative Irish Government there has ever been has deprived the Irish state of the most influential position it has ever held in the European Union. The Taoiseach, Micheal Martin, has sacked EU Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan.

The present Government is so representative that it is unable to govern. It is barely able to hold together.

The issue on which Hogan was sacked was attendance at a golf dinner, organised by the Golf Committee of the Dail, at which, it is suggested, Covid guidelines were broken.

Hogan denies that any laws were broken, or that any regulation was breached. The most that can be said is that a guideline which it was intended to make into a regulation was not observed.

Hogan had nothing whatever to do with the organising of the dinner, or the making of laws and regulations about Covid social distancing, but the dinner was attended by people who were involved in the governing of the state, including a Supreme Court Judge, who remains on the bench.

It was not the Government’s business to monitor the doings of the Commissioner it had nominated. A Commissioner, once appointed, ceases to be a functionary of the Government which nominated him. The Commission is an EU authority, whose personnel are drawn from the states of which the EU is made up. It is the core institution of the European Union. Without it, the Union would be a mere alliance of convenience between the various states.

But now a component state of the Union has usurped the authority of the Union by (effectively) sacking a Commissioner over whom it assumed it had continuing authority because it had nominated him.

If this action, driven by nationalist populism, is allowed to stand as a precedent, then the end of the EU is nigh.

This is not the first time an EU Commissioner has been sacked in response to populist rabble-rousing, but it is the first time it has been done through the action of the Government which nominated him. There was no demand anywhere but in Ireland that he should be sacked.

The previous sacking was of a French Commissioner, Edith Cresson, but that was not done in response to a French clamour. It was done in response to a populist clamour led by Pat Cox and the European Liberals and was part of a campaign to weaken the central institutions of the EU by establishing a spurious democracy where there were no grounds for a genuine democracy.

The sacking of Mme. Cresson was followed by a sacking of the entire Commission. The populist phrasemongers held that she could not simply be replaced by another nominee because the Commission was an integral whole and it either stood or fell together. It remains to be seen whether that will be done in the present instance.

A second ground for the clamour against Hogan is that he was on a visit to Ireland, and should therefore have subjected

himself to strict quarantine for a fortnight. He said that, while in Ireland, he had occasion to visit a doctor, and the doctor had given him a Covid Test and found him to be free of it. But that was dismissed as being irrelevant. The regulation had to be applied mindlessly. Anything else would be elitism. So held the Editor of the Irish (formerly Cork) Examiner, Daniel McConnell (who had led the clamour) in an interview with Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

Kenny raised the matter of Tanaiste, and former Taoiseach, Varadkar going in and out of the state without ever quarantining himself, and excusing himself on the ground that he was an important business. The Taoiseach did likewise. What business could the Tanaiste in a makeshift Government have that was more important than the business of the EU Trade Commissioner?

But Hogan was only visiting on holiday? He was attending a holiday event of the elite of a society which, for better or worse, has decided to be bourgeois-capitalist and to make itself a central point in the transactions of international financecapitalism. Is important business in that sphere dealt with only in an office and during office hours?

The Government that made the disciplining of an EU Trade Commissioner a matter of domestic Irish politics is a Coalition of three parties plus some Independents. It is at the mercy of every change in the breeze of public opinion.

What is called democratic government is representative government by political parties which are always trying to unseat one another. Nothing else is now recognised as democratic. In representative government there is a tension between being representative and governing. The tendency in recent times in Ireland and in Europe has been to give priority to representativeness over the function of governing.

The establishment of representative government was pioneered by the British State, and it has been maintained there during a long period when it was breaking down in other states, because in Britain priority has always been given to government over representativeness.

Proportional representation in multi-member Constituencies, which encourages the representation through separate parties of various shades of opinion, has been warded off in Britain, despite a number of attempts to introduce it—but Britain introduced it in Ireland in 1920 for the purpose of weakening whatever government would replace the British administration.

Two months ago, the British Government had a much more difficult problem about a breach of Covid regulations, that was much more serious than the problem presented to Micheál Martin by Phil Hogan’s attendance at a Dail golf dinner. Dominic Cummings drove from London to the North of England during Lockdown, to visit his parents. The visit was discovered and publicised by the media. A media and Opposition howl was raised, demanding that Cummings should be sacked. But the Prime Minister considered that Cummings’ expertise was needed for the conduct of government, and he rode out the clamour.

Micheal Martin caved in. The British mode of representative government has often been condemned as a form of elective dictatorship. But that is its virtue.

It was the French Revolution that proclaimed democracy to the world, but it was Britain that established a viable system of the democracy during the following century, while France was going through a series of popular revolutions and authoritarian counter-revolutions: Republics and Monarchies; democracies and charismatic authoritarisms.

The political philosopher Edmund Burke, when the French Revolution was proclaiming general human rights, said that the basic human right was a right to be governed without continuous commotion.

And the way this was to be done by representation was through the bundling together of opinions in two parties, so that the electorate could actually make a choice about government.

In France each Revolution brought forth a great proliferation of parties, each expressing a particular shade of opinion. This made government impossible and led to forcible restoration of authority.

Ireland, despite the subversive influence of PR, had a viable party government for more than three-quarters of a century after the Free State obsession with denying legitimate expression to anti-Treaty opinions was overcome by the Fianna Fail victory of 1933.

The system depended on the effectiveness of a rural-based Fianna Fail in holding a wide range of opinion together as a functional Party, capable of winning elections. The present crisis is the result of its decline in the hands of Bertie Ahern and its collapse in the hands of Micheál Martin, the Smart-Alec, due in great part to its repudiation of its origins and its demonization of Charles Haughey who, through virtuoso statecraft, made Ireland a player in the world of Finance Capitalism, on which its present prosperity depends, and gave the major European states the impression that Ireland was not just a British hanger-on.

The Trade Commissioner—who has been sacked by a virtual political nonentity, Micheál Martin, for next-to-nothing (because, formalistic quibbles aside, that is what has happened)two years ago, when he was EU Agricultural Commissioner, gave the Irish Government a severe talking-to, when it seemed to be in despair over Brexit, told it that there was a future for Ireland in Europe, even if Britain would not be there to look after it, and put some backbone into it. He changed the policy of the State with regard to Brexit from relying on an Irish deal with Britain, to relying on Europe to look after Irish interests in the face of British bullying. The policy was so successful that Britain has still not recovered from the shock!

And now Martin has thrown away the best card Ireland has in Europe!

And the Europeans must now be coming to think that the Irish are small-timers after all.