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Green Jersey

I met a few of my Irish colleagues in the European Parliament last week as we had what is called a plenary session. This is the monthly week-long session of the full Parliament.

The Irish MEPs work together on issues that are important for Ireland, sometimes referred to as putting on the ‘green jersey’. Other countries are really good at this and we are definitely improving. The Italians and French are past masters at this.

Of course, I see Billy Kelleher all the time and we work closely on voting arrangements on the hundreds of amendments that are tabled by MEPs on the reports and resolutions tabled in the Parliament.

It is a long time since Fianna Fail had two MEPs in the Parliament and it helps to keep an eye on what is going on in Brussels and feed it back to Dublin.

I met Grace O’Sullivan who has an incredible commitment to the environment and in particular to our oceans. I watched Seaspiracy on Netflix which, although flawed in some respects, underlines how important our oceans are as carbon sinks and how important the work Grace does for Ireland.

I have known Ciaran Cuffe for 20 years as we were both TDs for the Dun Laoghaire constituency and both Ministers in the Government after 2008. He has taken the boat and train to Brussels a number of times so it is safe to say that he walks the walk, almost literally.

I had lunch on Wednesday with the newest MEP Colm Markey who replaced Mairead McGuinness. I asked him what he thought about when he saw that Phil Hogan was under pressure and that Mairead might be in line for the big job. Colm of course didn’t really expect to get an opportunity but he is up and running and he brings vast knowledge of the agriculture and business sectors to the job as a former President of Macra na Feirme.

Deirdre Clune came back into the European Parliament having sat out a few months like myself until the UK actually withdrew in January 2020. She was also in the Dail at the same time as myself and you couldn’t imagine a politician with greater integrity than Deirdre.

I was in touch with Sean Kelly by email last week on the case of Richard O’Halloran as we are both on the Trade committee and a new trade agreement with China is being considered at the moment. We are working together on making sure that the Parliament is fully briefed on Richard’s case.

Finally, I ran into Mick and Clare, the great double act who work extremely hard even if I completely disagree with their benevolent view of Putin’s Russia and his allies. They have been heavily criticised in the media about this although there is a long standing convention that MEPs don’t take swipes against each other.

Nevertheless, they are good colleagues and were happy to support my campaign for better links between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the European Parliament.

I haven’t seen Frances Fitzgerald for a while as she hasn’t travelled over to Brussels during the pandemic. She has carried forward her great experience in advancing the cause of gender equality to the European Parliament and she is also vice-chair of the EPP group in the Parliament.

Maria Walsh represents the face of a new Ireland and is a great ambassador for Ireland in Brussels with her focus on mental health and equality.

I have yet to meet Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and only briefly said hello to Chris McManus, the Sinn Fein MEP who took over from Matt Carthy.

While it is my view that we are well served in the European Parliament, it is an issue that only Sean Kelly and Ming Flanagan have a record of unbroken service back to 2014. Second terms bring greater responsibility and influence. I hope I will be able to prove that theory in 2024.

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