IF ever a minister has become accustomed to metaphorical handfuls of the brown stuff whizzing towards the closest fan in his vicinity, that chap would be Phil Hogan.
So it was fitting that yesterday the Environment Minister should find himself in a building which deals with precisely that unfragrant substance. He had ventured forth to south Co Dublin to perform the official opening of the grandly monikered Shanganagh Wastewater Treatment Plant (or sewage works to you and me).
And inevitably, there was a small but vocal welcoming posse waiting for Big Phil outside the shiny new plant, which cost almost €100m.
People before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett was on patrol outside the gate with some of his party members, alongside some chaps with Sinn Fein placards which indicated their displeasure with the household tax.
It was bitterly cold, but some of the more feisty women among the few dozen awaiting the arrival of the minister were keeping warm by singing a medley of Phil-related ditties composed especially for the occasion.
"Hogan and the fat-cats/ Get in the sewer with the rats," they sang with gusto. "Big Phil take a whiff/you're going off the fiscal cliff," they chorused.
Among their ranks was another woman bearing a spooky photo of the minister peering through a door a la Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'. But she had retitled it 'The Fleecing'.
The Shanganagh estate was bristling with gardai who have become accustomed to Phil-inspired rumbles whenever he shows up in public.
He's the favourite whipping boy for the disgruntled citizenry, thanks to introducing all sorts of newfangled charges on septic tanks, the household and the water supply. (Occasionally the ire of the electorate strays in the directions of his beleaguered Cabinet colleague James Reilly, but Big Phil is never left in peaceful solitude for long.)
And the minister turned up mob-handed, his car sandwiched between a patrol car and a garda van as the little convoy drove carefully into the plant. There was a bit of shouting and running about, but no flying eggs – or flying product from the plant – followed Phil's motor as it passed through the gates.
The shiny building was spotless. Nor were there any strange smells about the place, apart from the whiff of sulphur which always accompanies Phil.
And just as government ministers prefer polite euphemisms such as "fiscal adjustment" and "revenue enhancement" instead of uttering words like "cuts" and "taxes", so too there is no shite-talk in this establishment. The plant instead is packed with "state-of-the-art innovative technology in waste water and sludge treatment, energy recovery and environmental management".
And the minister was unfazed by the war-party circling the gates.
"There'll always be a few people who don't want to pay for anything.
"I'm not disappointed or surprised that People before Profit and Sinn Fein – who in the Northern Ireland jurisdiction are asking people to pay local service charges at an average of €1,000 a house and here in the Republic they have a different policy where people pay nothing.
"That's not acceptable," he declared.
There were speeches in a marquee close to the gates, and the sounds of the drums and whistles of the protesters filtered through as Big Phil said a few words. But at this stage, they're the soundtrack to his daily routine.
He spotted Javier Garrigues. "I didn't expect the Spanish ambassador to be here today, and his company is very welcome," said Phil. "But he shouldn't have bothered bringing the samba band," he joked.
He didn't hang around long enough to take a tour of the plant. He knew headlines about Big Phil In the S**t Again were just too, too tempting.