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Thursday 28 August 2014

Phil has one-liners on tap while Enda rushes to his minister's defence

Published 16/01/2014 | 02:30

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Phill Hogan

Well, Phil Hogan is just full of surprises. Who would've predicted that when reaching for a metaphor to defend the kerfuffle over Irish Water, he would deploy a culinary turn of phrase?

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He was in Trinity College yesterday to launch the results of a Coastwatch survey, but was first obliged to face a flood of questions about the latest spending debacle, surely known as Watergate -- or Uiscegate, perhaps, given that it's Irish Water which is up the creek without a paddle over their apparently flathiuleach attitude to consultants' fees.

When asked if the revelations that a hefty €85m of taxpayers' spondulicks are destined to be paid out to consultants involved in the setting up of the new utility company represented a bit of a PR disaster, Phil pooh-poohed the very notion.

"Not at all. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs," declared the Nigella of the Cabinet. Who knew that Big Phil was an expert in the kitchen? We know he's a whizz at stirring things up, but we assumed he merely whipped up controversies, not souffles and the like.

Well, eggs or no eggs, the Government has been busily scrambling to defuse the grenade which rolled out onto the floor of Sean O'Rourke's studio during last week's interview with Irish Water chief John Tierney when the issue of consultants' fees was aired.

The Environment Minister managed to keep a low profile on the furore for several days (no mean feat for a lad who stands about six feet five inches tall in his socks) but during the five-hour Oireachtas committee meeting with executives from Irish Water on Tuesday, several fingers of blame began to point in the direction of the Department of the Environment.

But Big Phil was in robust form as he arrived at Trinity College, and insisted that he wasn't personally aware of the precise amount which was being splurged on consultants.

"€180m was the overall costs of what was deemed to be appropriate for the establishment of Irish Water," he explained. "And the detail in relation to what contracts were being given out or who was procuring is not my business -- it's a matter for Irish Water."

And what's more -- he wasn't feeling a bit sorry about finding himself in this pickle, as the Opposition lined up to accuse him of being all at sea over the matter.

Did he have any regrets at all? "None whatsoever, no regrets whatsoever," he said.

There certainly wasn't a bother on him as he launched the Coastwatch survey on erosion, water quality and the effects on various sea-creatures.

"I see you're documenting invasive alien species -- we've a few of those in politics as well," he joked to the survey team, adding that he hoped nobody would "scrutinise every cent spent on this report".

Phil wasn't a bit crabby at all. He even posed with a big plateful of oyster shells. "Look, the minister is coming out of his shell," he quipped.

It was all very fishy. Is it possible that he is hoping to be leaving Watergate in his dust this summer by taking up a Fierce Big Job in Europe?

Nonetheless, the Taoiseach was once more required to defend the honour of his minister who collects gaffes like Francois Hollande acquires romantic muddles.

In the Dail during Leaders' Questions, Enda -- suffering no doubt from an attack of deja vu -- fought off attacks on Phil from both Micheal Martin and Gerry Adams.

"Minister Hogan did not want to tell the truth -- it was a deliberate, premeditated and conscious decision to hide information from the Dail," thundered Micheal.

"He showed contempt for the Dail -- this minister has had too many debacles," tut-tutted Gerry, calling for Phil's resignation, just for the hell of it.

Enda just reached for his well-thumbed 'Defend Phil' notes. "No is the answer to that question," he replied firmly, and then loyally deflected some of the incoming flak from the hapless head of Big Phil onto himself by confirming that he knew of the €180m cost of setting up Irish Water.

So Phil ain't going anywhere -- unless it's to Brussels in the summer. But one thing's for certain -- this is a minister with a habit of finding himself in deep water.

Irish Independent

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