Big Phil Hogan, ‘Ireland’s man’ during EU Brexit negotiations
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Phil Hogan was Ireland’s man at the table as EU trade commissioner while Brexit negotiations ramped up.
The man known as Big Phil struck a looming presence and was at the pinnacle of his powers after a near 40-year career in politics.
It took the keen golfer from the farm where he grew up in rural Kilkenny in the south east of Ireland to the gleaming conference rooms of Brussels at the heart of Europe.
From local council wrangling to environment minister in a previous government as part of a Fine Gael party which had overseen Ireland’s emergence from economic crash.
Under former premier Enda Kenny he faced controversy over the imposition of deeply unpopular water charges in 2014.
Yet his influence was demonstrated when he became Ireland’s nominee to the European Commission later that year.
Trade was his second post at the Commission following a stint in agriculture, when he helped reform the Common Agricultural Policy.
He also drew criticism over a trade deal with South America’s Mercosur states – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – which was fiercely opposed by farming organisations.
He said: “I made a lifelong commitment to public service, throughout the course of my almost 40-year political career, as a member of the local authority, Oireachtas, minister and two terms as European commissioner.
I am proud of my record and achievements as European commissioner and I hope history will judge them favourably, when the final assessment is made
“I am proud of my record and achievements as European commissioner and I hope history will judge them favourably, when the final assessment is made.”
He had spent just under a year as trade commissioner and worked to secure a limited deal with the US on tariff reduction, covering products like lobster exports.
Transatlantic tensions escalated in 2017 when US President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium exports from Europe.
Mr Hogan added: “I remain convinced that at a time when the global economy faces significant challenges and turbulences, the importance of the EU as a global leader remains paramount.
“It has been my priority as EU trade commissioner to strengthen this global leadership role in trade, and to boost Europe’s capacity to protect itself from unfair trading practices.
“The EU must remain at the heart of the multilateral system of open, fair and rules-based trade, and continue pursuing a positive reform agenda.”
Ireland is the country which stood to lose the most through Brexit.
Mr Hogan’s position helped reassure the Republic that its voice was being heard by EU negotiators who placed the Irish border dispute at the heart of discussions.
He said: “Brexit also represents a significant challenge for the EU and for Ireland in particular, for which I have been centrally involved from the outset.
“I hope that the EU member states, with Ireland at their vanguard, and the UK, can overcome their differences and work together to reach a fair, mutually beneficial and sustainable trade deal.
“EU and UK citizens and businesses deserve nothing less.”