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Ireland MEPs

Ireland fights with all other Member States for influence across the EU institutions. The European Parliament is no different. Last week, it was announced that Ireland would gain an extra seat in the European parliament. While this is a positive development, a good place to start would be to make the most of the seats we already have.

There are a number of ways we can do this.

Firstly, we don’t deserve an extra seat if we keep throwing away the seats we have on far-left extremists.

Currently, we have 13 seats out of 705. Four of those seats are in the far left GUE-NGL group which is eurosceptic or at least eurocritical. It is surprising that we elect so many MEPs that are indifferent to the European project when you consider that Ireland is the most pro-EU member state according to multiple annual surveys.

Sinn Fein are in this group and, as everyone knows, Sinn Fein campaigned against every EU referendum since 1972.

The European Parliament reaches decisions through compromise across the political spectrum. GUE-NGL are very often left out of the final decision making process because of their extreme views. They represent a fringe view and are more or less inconsequential when it comes to final wording in resolutions and legislation.

The Independents for Change group of Clare Daly and Mick Wallace pepper all their speeches with attacks on NATO, US imperialism and the military-industrial complex. Their eccentric political views are even extreme for some in GUE-NGL. Their attitude to supporting Ukraine is a case in point.

For example, while my party supports Ukraine's right under Article 51 of the UN Charter to defend itself against attack, these MEPs have consistently voted against resolutions in support of Ukraine despite Russia’s nuclear blackmail, mass deportations, torture and fake referendums.

The reality now is that the war in Ukraine ends when Russia ends its invasion. The way to end this war is not capitulation and appeasement. We have supported tough sanctions, the Temporary Protection Directive, the European Peace Facility and Macro-financial assistance for the Ukrainian economy.

On 16th December 2021, the Independents for Change group voted against text condemning the military escalation by Russia at Ukraine’s borders.

On 14th February 2022, they voted against macrofinancial assistance to Ukraine.

Since the war started on 24th February 2022, they have continued this pattern of obstruction.

On 1st March 2022, they voted against a resolution condemning Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine (the first resolution after the war broke out). They also voted against sanctions, Ukraine’s candidacy for membership of the EU and further financial assistance for Ukraine.

In recent months, with an election looming next year, they have tried to appear semi-house trained by showing up on RTE programmes, something they avoided for the first few years of the mandate.

A second and related issue is the absence of any Irish MEPs in the S&D group, the second largest political family in the European Parliament. The Irish Labour Party are aligned to this group but have no MEPs. I suspect this is where Sinn Fein would like to relocate to but Labour is having none of it.

Current polling suggests Sinn Fein will win at least three seats in the elections in 2024. Having those seats in a fringe group like GUE-NGL does nothing for Irish influence and Irish interests.

A third issue for our representation in the European Parliament is that most of us are in our first term. That means we tend to be down the pecking order for the distribution of legislative files. Only two of the thirteen MEPS have uninterrupted service that goes back to 2014. Four of us, including myself, started after 2020.

Fourthly, for years the European Parliament has been seen in Ireland as a temporary refuge before a return to the national fray. Mary Lou McDonald, Simon Coveney and Alan Kelly all served as MEPs in this way before moving on to senior positions in their parties.

Treating the European Parliament as a secondary legislature in this way makes no sense when you consider that 70% of our laws originate in the EU. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has significantly increased its powers. It can reject the EU budget, approve Free Trade Agreements, dismiss the Commission and acts as co-legislator with the European Council on most issues.

Finally, dismal media coverage of the European Parliament has consequences. Don’t be surprised when turnout at the next European election is low. RTE has a programme called European Parliament report that not even the MEPs watch.

Ireland needs every one of its 13, and soon to be 14, MEP seats to be working for Ireland in a stronger Europe, not spouting rag-week radicalism and empty slogans.

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