Wednesday 21 November 2018

Minister apologises for crude sexual insult

FG woman says Hogan's 'demeaning, degrading' remark left her 'traumatised'

DISTURBING INCIDENT: Anne O'Connell, who complained of
being targeted at a golf club in Connemara by the Minister
for the Environment Phil Hogan
DISTURBING INCIDENT: Anne O'Connell, who complained of being targeted at a golf club in Connemara by the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan
Phil Hogan
the 'scrawled' apology issued by Mr Hogan to Ms O'Connell

WILLIE KEALY

The Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has written to ex-Taoiseach John Bruton's former administrator, Anne O'Connell, to apologise for a crude sexual "insult" delivered at last year's Oireachtas golf outing in Connemara.

However, a complaint about the matter, made in writing to Taoiseach Enda Kenny has failed to elicit a response.

Ms O'Connell described in her letter to Mr Kenny how she felt "completely traumatised" after Mr Hogan spoke to her in a manner that was "demeaning, insulting and degrading".

Ms O'Connell copied her letter to Mr Kenny to Mr Hogan, who is currently embroiled in the battle to persuade an unwilling public to register for and pay the household charge.

Mr Kenny's assistant private secretary wrote to her acknowledging receipt of the letter, and promising the matter would be brought to Mr Kenny's attention.

In September she again wrote to Mr Kenny, saying she was "surprised" not to have received a reply to her complaint about Mr Hogan's "vulgar insult", but to date she has received no reply.

The incident took place on August 24 and the letter to Mr Kenny was dated August 28. Shortly after writing that first letter, she received a handwritten note from Mr Hogan, dated August 29, apologising for his behaviour.

Yesterday Ms O'Connell, who now lives in Lahinch, Co Clare, responded to a request for a comment by saying: "I am a very angry woman. I just wanted a little bit of respect. Why was I not worthy of respect?"

In her letter to Mr Kenny, she explained exactly what transpired. She told Mr Kenny she was writing "in sadness and anger because of an insult delivered in public to me last week by a member of your Government.

"I am sad because of my lifelong allegiance to Fine Gael and I am angry because of the offence caused to me.

"(On) Wednesday, August 24, I and my partner for the past 26 years, Mairtin Mac Cormaic, and a number of other people arrived at Ballyconneely Golf Club in Connemara. As we were entering the clubhouse we met the Minister for the Environment, Mr Phil Hogan, and we greeted each other cordially."

Ms O'Connell who owns a number of buy-to-let properties, said she "took the opportunity to say to him that I hoped he would not 'screw' property owners in promised legislation.

"He replied in a loud voice: 'I have no problem screwing you. Hasn't Mairtin been screwing you for years.' Then he turned his back on me and said: 'Business tomorrow.'

"This was a demeaning, insulting and degrading remark made to me in public by a fellow member of Fine Gael. I was completely traumatised by the remark and could hardly believe my ears.

"I was unable to attend the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner arranged for that night in Ballyconneely because I was afraid I might meet Mr Hogan once more. I did not sleep that night and have had difficulty sleeping since then. It is only with the help and support of my family and friends that I am coping with this."

Ms O'Connell, who recently celebrated her 70th birthday, pointed out to Mr Kenny that she had been "a loyal member of Fine Gael all my adult life, first in Limerick, later in Dublin and now in Co Clare. As you know I worked for several years in the Dail as secretary to a number of members of the Oireachtas, during which time I also worked as administrator for John Bruton when he was leader of Fine Gael.

"Nobody deserves this kind of outrageous dismissal. Not least from a member of the Government. I have no intention of letting this matter die.

"My partner, Mairtin Mac Cormaic is dealing with the matter as he sees fit. I am dealing with it as I see fit. My first step is in informing you as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael. I expect you to deal with it as you see fit. I hope to hear from you shortly."

Mr Kenny, however, did not reply to the letter. Yesterday a spokesman for the Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent: "The Taoiseach's office understood, following contact with the minister, that an apology had been issued and that therefore further correspondence was not required."

Within a few days of contacting Mr Kenny's office for the first time, Ms O'Connell did receive a handwritten note from Mr Hogan.

"It was a scribbled note," Ms O'Connell said. "I do not accept it as a proper apology. And I am very disappointed that the Taoiseach chose to completely ignore my letter to him on the matter."

In the note, Mr Hogan wrote: "Dear Anne, I refer to your letter of 28th Aug 2011 and remarks I made to you on Aug 24th last.

"I unreservedly apologise for those remarks which were totally inappropriate in a personal sense to you and Mairtin.

"It was intended in a jocose and private basis and certainly not intended as insulting particularly as I know both of you very well for 24 years.

"My apologies for any personal injury caused. Regards, Phil."

Yesterday a spokesman for Mr Hogan said: "He wrote a letter apologising and that is where he left it. He genuinely didn't mean to give offence."

Ms O'Connell, whose partner, Mairtin Mac Cormaic, is a former political journalist with the Irish Independent, said yesterday that Mairtin was actually the only person present who did not fully hear what Mr Hogan had said.

Approached for comment by the Sunday Independent, she said: "Mairtin could tell I was upset that evening and he kept asking me what was wrong and what had Phil Hogan said. I couldn't talk about it and I said it was nothing. I was only afterwards when I sat down and wrote out what had happened that I realised I should not let it lie.

"It made Mairtin and other members of my family very angry. They could not understand why a man -- a minister -- would speak like that to a woman who had been in a relationship for 25 years. They urged me to take various courses, but I told them I would write to the Taoiseach and he would take action. Unfortunately, other than a standard acknowledgement, I heard nothing more. Maybe he got on to Phil Hogan. I don't know. Maybe that's why the minister scribbled that note to me. I don't know."

She added that if Mr Kenny had responded to her letter that would have been the end of the matter.

"If he had just said he was sorry to hear what had happened and that he had had a word with the minister and that there would be an apology, that would have been the end of the matter. I would never have mentioned it to anyone again."

Sunday Independent

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