News Gene Kerrigan

Friday 19 September 2014

Yet another botched job at Priory Hall

Both Enda Kenny and Phil Hogan have been ducking out of their responsibilities, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 22/09/2013 | 05:00

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WHAT are we going to do about Phil Hogan, given his performance? We all know we can't do anything about Phil as long as he has the protection of his buddy Enda. What are we going to do about Enda, given his cowardice? Has anyone actually listened to what these two people have been saying in recent days? Their performance would be understandable in a nervous young TD. Kenny has been in the Dail for 38 years, Hogan for 24.

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Never mind whether we agree with them on this issue or that issue – look at the behaviour. A teenager doing an internship, if displaying the qualities of these two, would be quietly taken aside and advised to find another line of work.

Instead, their party looks away – knowing that anyone showing the slightest unease or dissent will be hammered unmercifully. And the media continues to present these two as serious people, not the clowns their recent behaviour shows them to be.

It's almost two weeks since Priory Hall resident Graham Usher appeared on Prime Time. Usher is one of the people who, through no fault of their own, was condemned to continue paying a mortgage on a firetrap apartment in which he wasn't allowed live.

Two weeks ago, Hogan was insisting he couldn't meet the Priory Hall people because of legal constraints. This was unfortunate, as Hogan is the minister responsible, and this scandal involves the daily degradation of hundreds of people, including young children – and if he doesn't act it's unlikely to be solved this year or next.

And, according to Minister Kathleen Lynch, on RTE: "Well, the Taoiseach, once a month, has a meeting with every single department and [Priory Hall] has been on that agenda, virtually every month." So, it's an urgent government priority, permanently on the Taoiseach's agenda.

Refusing to do anything, Phil Hogan had explained that there was a Supreme Court appeal pending, so he had been advised by the Attorney General not to say a word about Priory Hall. I thought this was odd, given that the extant legal matter is peripheral, not affecting the substantive issue. But, Hogan couldn't have got that wrong, right? And it wasn't just Hogan's opinion, this involved the Attorney General.

Apart from these legal constraints, since April 2012 former Supreme Court judge Joseph Finnegan had been helpfully chairing an attempt to find a non-legal resolution of the scandal. Hogan said on Newstalk: "I have not seen any report from Judge Finnegan, he has to report to the court; and I understand the date of that reporting is on the 15th of October." He also said: "Judge Finnegan was asked by the court to carry out this mediation."

Here's what Graham Usher said on Prime Time: there seemed to be "a fundamental misunderstanding by the minister and by the Government about what's actually going on.

"The minister seems to think the mediator is court appointed. He's not." Usher said that the mediation by Judge Finnegan involved a "non-binding, voluntary" process. He said of Hogan: "He seems to think the judge will be reporting to the Supreme Court. Again, he's not."

Usher said that Hogan is "waiting for a report that doesn't exist and is not going to exist". At this point, although Graham Usher seemed calm and convincing, I began to wonder if he hadn't gone too far. Surely Hogan wouldn't . . .

Then, it got a bit creepy. Usher said that in October 2012, a year ago, Phil Hogan "brought up this point – expecting a report to come from Joseph Finnegan that month". Really? He's been using this excuse for a year? I looked it up. And a year ago Labour TD Sean Kenny was quoted online: "I have spoken to the minister," Kenny said. "Once this report has been completed, he is agreeable to meeting the residents then."

Hearing of this, a year ago, Graham Usher – at the next mediation meeting – asked Judge Finnegan if he was producing a report. "And his answer was no, I'm not here to put a report together."

Usher told Prime Time: "There is no report, the minister's waiting on something that doesn't exist.

Ah, here. Come on. Can't be true.

Unfortunately, it is. For a year, the minister responsible for dealing with a major scandal has been talking through his arse. The Supreme Court, on request, agreed to pause an appeal, while Finnegan chaired mediation talks – it did not appoint Finnegan. There is no report to the court.

Hogan kept up the nonsense, repeating that legal constraints meant he couldn't meet the residents. The following day, Enda Kenny said: "I don't have any objection to meeting the residents." Wasn't Kenny getting the same legal advice?

Then, the Sunday Times reported that the Finnegan mediation – from which Hogan expected a report next month – had collapsed weeks ago. Suddenly, Hogan began to move, putting down a deadline for fixing the scandal he supposedly wasn't allowed to say a word about, for legal reasons.

"I have become aware recently that, regrettably, the resolution process under Judge Finnegan has not identified a basis on which the parties could agree."

The fact that Hogan was expecting a report from a process that had collapsed weeks earlier, a collapse of which he remained ignorant, is astonishing. Where did he get the October 15 date for the non-existent report? We asked the AG's office, via the Government Information Service (GIS), when did the AG give the alleged legal advice to Hogan?

At lunchtime Saturday, the AG's office hadn't got back to the GIS. We'll let you know what they say, if they say it.

Of course, Enda Kenny stands idly by throughout this farce, involving an issue he allegedly holds to be of such urgent concern that it's permanently on his agenda. Kenny governs by slogan. "Exit the bailout. Five-point plan. Wave goodbye to the IMF. Hitting our targets."

No matter if the targets are artificially set by EU bureaucrats whose aims are entirely unrelated to the welfare of our citizens. What counts is the positive message, the self praise.

Last week, given the opportunity to defend his Seanad closure policy, via a television debate with Micheal Martin, Kenny declined. We're used to him running away from all but the most tightly constructed debates, where he can get away with repeating the lines given to him by his handlers. This time, he abused the Dail.

His stated reason for not debating Micheal Martin was: "I don't want to embarrass you."

It's the kind of wisecrack that's fine in a pub or at a party conference. In the Dail, he's supposed to answer questions – and that answer was both contemptuous of the Dail and untrue.

Kenny chose a job that, when it's taken seriously, largely consists of the clash of ideas.

When, out of cowardice, he consistently runs away from debate it's not Micheal Martin to whom he's refusing to give answers – it's the electorate.

There's speculation that Phil Hogan will get a job as EU commissioner. And more speculation, that Kenny may get the EU council presidency. Please God, let it happen. Send out the clowns.

Sunday Independent

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