What do our Irish MEPs think of the EU?

FOR THE PAST 12 months, The Journal has been publishing articles as part of The Good Information Project.

TGIP is an initiative co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Each month, we have focused on one major topic to create a space for discussion, learning and sharing new ideas and solutions.

The aim has been to explore topics that are of relevance to Irish society. This month, the focus has been on the European Union. We have been exploring how the EU and its various institutions work, as well as some of the main issues affecting Ireland and its relationship with the EU.

As part of this, The Journal has conducted a survey of Ireland’s 13 sitting MEPS, to ask them about their work in the European Parliament. Ireland’s MEPs come from parties across the political spectrum, and the answers give an insight into the workings of the European Parliament, which can at times seem quite distant and obscure to the typical Irish voter. 

We put the same five questions we put to all MEPs and below are their answers, verbatim, with the MEPs ordered first by constituency and, within that, alphabetically. 

Barry Andrews

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. I have been heavily involved with bringing the SDGs (sustainable development goals) back onto the European agenda. I set up, and chair, an informal group of MEPs called the SDG Alliance and it is made up of 25 MEPs from across the political spectrum. We held a number of online events in this format to agree a strategy and signed an MOU with an external body to assist us in our work. Following heavy lobbying we succeeded in advancing a resolution on the implementation of the SDGs for the June mini-plenary.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. No. I am very impressed with a Parliament that I was not familiar with. Overall, the EP contributed constructively to the launch of the RRF (Recovery and Resilience Facility) and to the overall pandemic response. Also, the EP was fairly clear in its position on Ukraine and helped to ensure that Ukraine was recommended for candidate status by the Commission.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. I was impressed by the number of experts in most fields of endeavour. I was surprised at how hard it is to get responsibility on important files and to get speaking time in Plenary.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. I think Irish people are better informed on what the EU does because of multiple referendums over the years and because of Brexit. However, the role of the various institutions is not understood. Irish media should do more work on the EP considering the volume of law that originates in the EU.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. The EU has to take more seriously the rule of law issue within the EU. If not, there is a danger that the legal order will be fatally undermined. This will mean more infringement proceedings and more use of the rule of law contingency associated with the RRF. Also the EU has to act on the recommendations of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. As parliament’s lead negotiator for the next update of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, I was very proud to submit my draft law to the Parliament in the last few weeks. This law aims to decarbonise all buildings in the EU, be they residential or otherwise. Think of it as a law that aims to bring all buildings up to an A energy rating.

I’m particularly proud that my updates to the law will ensure that renovations for people living in energy poverty will be prioritised, and that financial support will be available to ensure that everyone has the right to warmer, safer homes. I will be defending these updates vigorously in the negotiation process, which will kick off in the next few weeks.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. I have certainly felt disappointment with attempts from many sides to water down the ambitions of the European Green Deal at every turn. I’m not alone in my concern of course, and earlier this month, 10 countries (including Ireland) wrote a letter to express their own concerns by attempts at Parliament and by EU government representatives at the Council to weaken our climate ambitions. 

However still, the Greens have secured a number of wins for the climate and we will continue to fight for effective climate policies that will actually enable us to meet our emissions targets. 

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the calibre of the people that you work with in Brussels: from European Commission officials to staff in the Parliament. One thing that did strike me though is the extraordinary amount of lobbying that goes on. Earlier this month in Strasbourg, I was admiring an old building on the street late in the evening and was approached by a Polish coal lobbyist. 

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. The European Green Deal is alive and your MEPs and Irish government representatives are at the negotiation table every day making decisions on policies to get us closer to our climate targets.

For Ireland, an ambitious European Green Deal means clean, green jobs; warmer homes for all; affordable electric vehicles and good charging infrastructure; better public transport infrastructure; more renewables and simplified permitting processes. 

Irish people need to keep the pressure on MEPs and the government to make sure we’re all sticking to our climate promises and standing down serious efforts by lobbyists to water down our ambitions.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. The renovation of the EU building stock has to be prioritised, particularly when our buildings are responsible for 36% of our greenhouse gas emissions. We can prioritise vulnerable groups in this process by ensuring that we phase-out the worst performing buildings first, and include strong safeguards and financial support for households at risk of energy poverty. 

Different studies suggest we can save 25-45% of our Russian energy imports with ambitious renovation policies in the medium to long-term.

We can protect households from crazy energy bills, provide warmer, safer homes for all, and significantly lower our emissions with a large-scale renovation rollout that prioritises low-income households. We can also reduce our dependence on Russian energy imports – that’s why we say let’s insulate our homes, to isolate Putin. 

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. As a result of my work on rule of law in the LIBE (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) committee I was given the honour of being invited by protesters to address the hundredth day of the protests in Sofia against the Bulgarian government of Boyko Borisov, which was mired in scandal. After Bulgarians were successful in changing their government, I was invited back by the new Minister for Culture to launch our study on the rule of law at an event in November in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia.

The study was the culmination of work we’ve been doing since the beginning of the mandate on rule of law issues in the Union, calling on the European Commission to enhance its rule of law monitoring mechanism. It was very rewarding to see the work of several years come together like that.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. There are a great many things to be disappointed about. If I had to name just one, it would be the almost total lack of concern shown by MEPs for Afghanistan since the withdrawal of troops from there last August. Afghanistan is facing a truly devastating humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by Western sanctions. Millions of people are starving to death now. I receive hundreds of emails a week from desperate people. MEPs don’t want to hear about it. The Parliament’s delegation for relations with Afghanistan hasn’t even bothered to meet to discuss it. I’ve been campaigning for an urgent meeting, but colleagues don’t want to do anything. It’s a disgrace.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I came here. I knew it was going to be quite different. The culture around the Parliament was a little bit of a surprise. It is much less formal in here than most people would expect.

Another big change to how I was used to working in the Dáil is the consensus system for how files are negotiated. In general the way the Parliament functions encourages the different political groups to find common ground on legislative work, to find a text that nobody is going to be completely wild about, but everyone can hopefully live with. Whether that is ultimately a good thing or a bad thing is another question.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. Strasbourg. People at home don’t realise that every month the Parliament ups and moves from Brussels to Strasbourg to have a week of plenary meetings, and then it comes back at the end of the week to resume its normal work. 700 MEPs, their staff, the Parliament’s staff, the Commissioners, thousands of people in all, all moving for no good reason to another city.

Travel costs, accommodation costs, subsistence costs, the cost of running two massive parliament buildings in two different cities even though only one of them is in use at any given time – all paid for by citizens. It’s a preposterous waste of money, and extremely bad for the environment. It should be stopped.

Besides that, how reactionary a lot of politics is here. There is a healthy aversion to bigotry and xenophobia in Ireland, and we have made a lot of social progress in recent years on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and marriage equality. At the same time people in Ireland have a very positive view of the EU, and see it as something which is very socially progressive. It doesn’t really deserve to be seen that way. If Irish people were shown the plenary debates properly, on television, and could see just how racist and reactionary much of EU politics is, I think it would change their attitudes to the EU significantly.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. It has to be climate. Unless we prioritise climate, and really use the opportunities to act now and ambitiously, there won’t be a liveable world in which to deal with anything else.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. I am proud of my work in securing a commitment to the first ever European Care Strategy, which Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen confirmed in her most recent State of the Union speech. This strategy will see huge progress for carers and vulnerable people in Ireland and across Europe including better supports and workforce planning. 

I am also proud of my work in the area of equality and women’s rights, including the Women on Boards Directive, which will help to address the longstanding underrepresentation of women in the European business world.

As my group’s coordinator on the Gender Equality Committee in the Parliament, I want to equal representation for women in all aspects of the Parliament’s work. I have drafted reports and motions on the gender perspective in the Covid19 crisis, the impact of Russia’s invasion on the women of Ukraine, women’s sexual and reproductive health in the EU, women’s rights in Afghanistan, and the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations in developing countries.

I will also be leading the negotiations on a new Violence Against Women Directive which is very important and much needed given the scourge of gender-based violence in our society.

As a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, I have worked on landmark files over the last year including: 

  • stronger laws on tackling money laundering, 

  • increased cyber security for the financial services sector, 

  • measures to improve access to mortgages through banking union, 

  • overseeing the operation of the Recovery and Resilience Facility to invest in European economies as part of the Covid19 recovery with a focus on supporting our transition to a more green and digital economic model. 

I am working alongside Minister Paschal Donohoe on taking the final steps to a full banking union across the Eurozone, which will benefit consumers and ensure that more people can access mortgages at reasonable rates and improve access to credit for small and medium businesses. 

As a member of the Development Committee, I have authored reports on the implementation of the sustainable development goals, reproductive rights in the EU, and the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations in developing countries.

I am working with my colleagues on the committee to investigate the use of the Pegasus software to spy on journalists and civil society actors across the world. We need firm action on this to protect democracy and a free press.

I also represent the EU as part of my work on the Parliament’s Representation to both the United States and China. 

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. If there is any disappointment, it is related to the perception that the EU is not seeking to engage with citizens. A big challenge for the Parliament and for MEPs is to ensure that citizens are aware of the work that is being done and the importance of the EU institutions. 

The European Parliament is the democratic body of the EU. It is important that MEPs represent their constituents but also that MEPs are clear and honest about the work that is being done, whether it is in economic affairs, business supports, trade, energy, or social affairs, so that citizens can have confidence that the EU institutions are on their side. The Parliament must always ensure that it is not just talking to itself.

I also think that we in Ireland should ask ourselves what more we can do to show our support and engagement. We have benefitted hugely from EU membership but it cannot all be about short-term self-interest. There are other smaller countries in Europe, particularly newer Member States looking for our help and support on issues from security and defence, to development, trade, and environmental protection. Ireland should seek to be a policy leader in all of these areas. We are now one of the oldest member states, and we are a net contributor. We should not just sit out important discussions or look for special exemptions. 

Also on trade and investment issues, we have enormous experience as a dynamic, open, trading economy and we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for those values at a European level to prevent any move to retreat into a type of fortress Europe mind-set. We know that free trade makes people freer, wealthier, and more open. Europe must always remain open for business. The European Union belongs to us as much as any other state and we should ensure that we work to strengthen and defend it.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. As an Irish politician, whether in Government or Opposition, you would deal regularly with colleagues and counterparts in other EU Member States. However, being in the European Parliament and working with colleagues from across the 27 Member States on a daily basis, whether it is in the chamber or at committees, or in the group meetings, or informally on matters of policy, really gives you an unmatched insight in their views and experiences. 

It has given me a better insight into how much we all have in common. A clear example is the reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, on which there is overwhelming unity across all Member States in support of the Ukrainian people and a desire to do whatever we can to help. 

We all face similar issues and in the EU these issues can be thoroughly addressed in all member states. Due to its size and influence, the EU has allowed issues like gender equality and climate change to be addressed effectively and for these values to be more effectively promoted and defended across the world.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. Irish voters are very aware of the EU and the progress Ireland has made since joining the EU on matters such as economic development, climate change and social equality as we have seen in ensuring the rights of women and members of the LGBTQI community in Ireland. I would urge the Irish people to contribute to the debate online or locally in order to spread awareness on these topics for a brighter future in the EU.

Currently the EU is putting in place ambitious policies to tackle climate change. I would encourage people to engage with policies such as Fit for 55 by 2030, the EU’s plan to cut emissions by 55%, or the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which focuses on investing in the green transition, and the new focus on sustainability and environmental governance in the business world. If anyone would like any more information about these policies please do let me know and I would be delighted to keep you updated.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. The EU’s focus over the next five years should be becoming a climate leader and taking steps to complete the single market, particularly in the area of banking and capital markets, in order to help make the cost of living easier for citizens. 

We need greater cooperation between Member States, particularly in Eurozone countries, on financial services, oversight, consumer protection, debt reduction, and building a stable and resilient banking and investment system, which will improve consumer confidence, increase investment, and allow us to create more jobs and prosperity.

We need a renewed focus on the digital and climate transition, the post-Covid recovery, and the fight against reversing gains in LGBTQIAs. Along with this, the EU must redouble its commitment to gender equality and human rights, both within the EU and around the world.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. As the Shadow for the Left group I was one of 8 MEPs to participate in the CAP trialogues which concluded with a vote in plenary last November. As a result of an amendment which I tabled on convergence of farm payments at the AGRI committee it is now mandatory for EU governments to produce a more equitable CAP. A mandatory 85% minimum convergence of payments will mean a transfer of 100s of millions of Euro to the counties of Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim over the lifetime of this CAP.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. I am particularly disappointed that the European Parliament is using the invasion of Ukraine as an excuse to push back on environmental gains made during CAP reform. Currently there is a drive to allow the planting of crops in areas which were to be left for nature. No impact assessment has been carried out to establish the damage that this will do to the medium to long term ability of the EU to feed itself. In fact no impact assessment has even been carried out to establish how much extra food will be produced in the short term.

Q. If this is not your first term as an MEP, do you perceive a change in how the European Parliament is operating between your first year in office and now?

A. Not particularly.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. In many cases citizens in Ireland are told that the EU doesn’t allow for this and that. However on further investigation it is usually the case that the authorities in Ireland have misinterpreted regulations. In many cases wilfully because it suits their agenda.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. That the construction and subsequent implementation of the CAP strategic strategic plan at national level is done in a way that is consistent with the CAP Strategic Plan regulation that was negotiated at Trialogues. This is essential in order that we can guarantee food security along with food sovereignty in the future. 

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. I think I’m most proud of how I, my team and my party colleagues are handling the fallout of Brexit in general. As we’ve said from the beginning there is no such thing as a good Brexit, but I think myself and my Sinn Féin colleagues have worked well with European leaders in terms of reducing the harmful impacts of Brexit in the North and ensuring that the voices of citizens in the six-counties and indeed the island of Ireland are properly heard at a European level. The people of the North voted to remain in the EU and that is understood in Brussels. 

I feel my colleagues across the EU, from MEPs to Commissioners have been kept acutely aware of every development. We have consistently briefed EU negotiators about likely antics and strategic manoeuvres from Westminster throughout the Brexit negotiations. From the Good Friday Agreement to the Protocol there is a sense that we are all on the same page and that the interests of Ireland are very much the same as our European counterparts.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. I think responding to a major pandemic is difficult and in many ways the European Parliament did quite well in terms of how they reacted. However I was sorely disappointed at the lack of empathy we showed to the international community. I believe the European Union pandered to Big Pharma and didn’t apply sufficient pressure and influence to ensure access to treatments for citizens beyond our own borders. I think this was a real blemish on Europe’s character. 

A refusal to push for a TRIPS Waiver directly resulted in the needless deaths of many across the world. The EU could have and should have done more. 

 The Left Group in the European Parliament and some select colleagues in other groupings were part of the promotion of the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘No Profit On Pandemic’ which attempted to address these issues, but there was a disappointing lack of buy-in from many centrist and right leaning parties across the European Family. Readers can still sign the initiative on www.noprofitonpandemic.eu before 31 July.

In the future I would like to see more compassion and empathy from the European Union and a less selective approach towards who we help and who we condemn. Especially in times of international emergency like a global health pandemic.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

It’s a little tricky to say, as with the pandemic initially a lot of my work was carried out remotely so I probably didn’t fully experience the normalities of the role fully until this year. 

I suppose the travel demands of the job are one of the big eye openers. Between debates, votes, constituency visits, media commitments and the switching between parliaments there is an intense travel schedule. It’s not exactly the exciting kind of travel either. There’s a lot of early mornings and lates nights. Deadlines, long queues, communicating on the go.

Being an MEP from the west of Ireland adds to that schedule as there’s a long commute to and back from Dublin airport for example just to get to Brussels or Strasbourg. The logistics can be difficult to stay on top of. I have a great team working with me who coordinate everything but when I do get a chance to kick the shoes off back in Sligo it can be a great relief. 

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. An important point that people may not know is that Irish is now an official language of the parliament. People can read EU laws, surf EU websites and respond to EU public consultations in Irish. It’s important to note that the more people who use these resources, the more the visibility of Irish as an official EU language will be improved

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. I’d like to see less bureaucracy, more respect for the sovereignty of member states, fairer deals for our farming and fishing communities and a less selective approach to international human rights.

These are all areas I’d certainly like to see improvement in, but I suppose from an Irish perspective I’d like to see an increased focus on the topic of Irish Unity. As a Sinn Féin MEP, I believe that it is always worth recalling the important role that the EU has played in supporting the Irish peace process. The EU has demonstrated its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement – in all its parts – on numerous occasions. This support must continue in order to protect the island of Ireland from the most harmful impacts of Brexit.

That said, I believe it is now time for the EU to stop playing the part of an observer when it comes to the conversations on the national question. Conversations that are being had the length and breadth of our island. Indeed, it is time for the EU to get off the side-lines and play an active role in these discussions. The Conference on the Future of Europe for example should be a platform for this discussion as preparation is key to any future constitutional change. It is irresponsible to not engage in these important dialogues as early as possible.

When the Unity Referendum does come, it is important that we have a thoughtful and informed discussion on the future of our island. That means the EU making clear what supports, financial or otherwise, it is prepared to offer to assist with a smooth transition towards a re-united Ireland. This conversation needs to be at the heart of the Conference on the Future of Europe from an Irish perspective.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. The piece of work I’m most happy with over the last year is a file I worked on in the Committee on Agriculture on addressing food security in developing countries. It was finished just before the war in Ukraine and given the current context; it is even more relevant now. The file or ‘opinion’ is all about ensuring that we work to help develop both food security and food sovereignty in parts of Africa because whatever happens, it will be difficult for some of these countries to feed themselves.

Many of the least developing countries in the world are hugely dependent on grain and wheat from Ukraine and Russia, which is now blocked. This could lead to famine, which in turn could result in another migration crisis. It just shows that our role on the global stage is just as important as our role here in the EU. We were first to recognise the difficulties and challenges which have now come home to roost and I’m glad we’re on the right track in terms of addressing these difficulties.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. I don’t think we have done enough on our environmental ambitions. We need to be clear and focus on how we deliver and make tangible changes rather than taking aspiration positions with no basis on how we achieve certain targets.

We need to double down on changes we can make that will have a meaningful impact in decarbonising our transport fleet, making food production more sustainable and having an energy-neutral housing stock. If we deliver on 80% of our ambition, I would be 10 times happier than setting an ambition twice as high with no regard in how to deliver, which seems to be the position of some political groups here in Parliament.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. Having come from a local government background, I found similarities in the way the Parliament and Commission interacts and would compare it to the dealings between the local executive and elected members. The biggest blockage here seems to be the sheer amount of amendments proposed on certain pieces on legislation.

You could be voting on hundreds on amendments and much of it bears no direct relation to the actual legislation proposed but is used for political purposes to push a certain agenda. I believe it damages the ability to make effective, robust, efficient and compact laws.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. While Irish people have a very positive sentiment on the EU, I don’t think they are fully up to speed on how the structures and work and the interaction between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council.

People also do not realise that all the standards we have in Ireland are borne out of EU legislation. In general, what goes on here on a weekly basis – whether it be the response to the war in Ukraine or environmental targets – doesn’t get enough engagement or robust debate at home and MEPs are not often asked or given an opportunity to explain why they voted a certain way, which is disappointing.

I would like to see more awareness and let people know that it is surprisingly easy to engage with the system here, whether it be an email to you MEP or a question on a particular issue to the Commission. I think we could all do a better job in promoting the workings of the EU.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. I think the main area the EU should focus on is the transition to renewable energy. Yes, we have seen various initiatives announced in the ‘Fit for 55′ package but I think even more could be done given the current context. We should be more ambitious when it comes to weaning ourselves off Russian gas for instance and that means having the infrastructure in place as soon as possible to roll out alternative options.

From an Irish perspective, not enough is being done to facilitate offshore wind facilities which would provide an enormous economic boost to the island and help us meet our climate targets. I fear that our planning system is one of the major blockages and I would like to see a complete overhaul of An Bord Pleanala to ensure that these projects get off the ground as a matter of urgency.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. My team and I worked on the European Parliament’s Pay Transparency Directive. A phenomenal body of work to recognise and understand the 14.1% pay gap between women and men doing the exact same work. Fifty years on from the ‘marriage bar’ being removed for the ‘Mna na hEireann’ after we joined the EU, or EEC at the time, it’s frustrating to know as a young female politician the journey we still have to overcome to ensure equal and fair pay and working rights for women.

It was frustrating at times to push this forward and find political balance, but we did. This work took team effort also. It’s imperative to me to have a team that sees and understands my values and why I ran in 2019 and this was a body of work that we collectively ensured gained overwhelming support in the Parliament. The Dossier (file) is currently being negotiated with the Council and we anticipate to continue to push for equal pay with the Czech Republic and Swedish Presidency over the coming year. 

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. I have felt frustrated. At times the lengthy timeframes offered for certain issues like mental health, or women’s rights or our climate emergency, is difficult to understand. We see the speed in which Council members and the Commission can work. We lived the necessary and very welcomed speed of our Leaders’ decisions and directions over the Covid-19 pandemic and when Russia invaded Ukraine for example. So, we know issues can be decided on and moved quickly.

I want us to be the gold standard in answering our climate and biodiversity obligations and this can’t be ideological either. We have to bring people and communities and businesses with us. We must be practical in our demands otherwise, we will never reach the targets we need to to protect future generations and our planet.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. As I am a first-time politician and someone who didn’t grow up in party politics, the expectations of course have differed and grown since being elected in July 2019. As I knew they would. The difficulty at the beginning of my mandate was knowing who to speak with and how to begin the work for community members in Midlands-North-West. It’s a very technical atmosphere at times, therefore it has been difficult to fully grasp why certain Files or ideas take longer than others.

An example of such is working to ensure mental health and wellness is on the agenda for every Member State, within the Commission and Council. While not deemed a competency of the EU, we can work to better signpost, highlight and share best practices and I want to deliver this through a European Year dedicated to Mental Health. Three years ago I was told it wouldn’t happen, but we are close to having it declared by the President of the Commission for 2023.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. A lot of work and decisions are being made – daily – within the European institutions that positively impact and, at times, can negatively affect our communities. Regular contact needs to be made with your Member of the Parliament, as it plays a vital role in having your voice heard. We also have to do better at highlighting the many programmes like Erasmus+, Blue Schools and European Ambassador Schools Programmes, to make sure our young voters see the benefits and opportunities of working with and being in the European Union.

The flippant narrative that the EU is not serving us is wrong. We have benefitted from our students studying veterinary in Budapest. We have benefited from nearly €80 Billion for our farm families to grow and remain in rural communities. We have also benefited in better working conditions, equality for our LGBTI+ communities and have seen the importance of solidarity in not just support of Ukraine but also in the purchasing of COVID vaccines.

We have a proud and rich history, within Fine Gael, of being the most Pro-EU Party that sends capable and balanced voices to Europe. It’s integral we continue to do that for the communities across Ireland.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. The issue I would like to see prioritised is our citizens’ mental health and wellness. In 2019, it was estimated 83 million people were affected from mental ill health across Europe. We can only imagine the toll and impact the pandemic, unemployment, the Ukrainian war and the cost of living has on people’s mental health. For far too long we have seen the EU as a financial vehicle, which is wrong.

Our EU family has a role to play in social development and ensuring equality is felt by all, not just some. For me, mental health services are neglected in many Member States, not just Ireland. That must change.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. During the past 12 months I worked closely with the Conference of the Future and Europe, the focal point of which centred on the promotion of European citizens to have their say on the future of our community.  The conference delivered a total of 325 proposals, with the aim of achieving 49 objectives.

Throughout these proposals, citizens called for stronger democratic representation and further integration across salient issues, such as energy and climate change. The proposals also focused on health, aiming to introduce minimum healthcare standards and reduce external dependency on the supply of vital goods and medicines. Moving forward, it is vital that EU leaders work to ensure the voices of Europe are heard

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Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

 

[Unanswered]

Q. If this is not your first term as an MEP, do you perceive a change in how the European Parliament is operating between your first year in office and now?

A. The biggest change affecting operations within the European Parliament has been Covid-19. The Parliament had to adapt to a new way of life, as in-person gatherings became online meetings and events. Thankfully, like much of Europe, things are becoming more familiar again, as committee meetings and events are now taking place in person once more. 

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. A prominent benefit of Ireland’s EU membership that voters may not be fully aware of is the funding we receive from the EU. For example, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union has strengthened its current long-term 2021-2027 budget. Together with a temporary NextGenerationEU recovery instrument, €1.8 trillion was made available to mitigate the damage caused by the pandemic and help Europe emerge from the crisis stronger and more resilient.

Ireland is expected to receive an estimated €1 billion in Recovery and Resilience Facility grants.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. As the impact of Covid-19 is still prominent within sundry member states, health must be prioritised over the coming years. As a member of the newly formed COVI committee, we  have a unique opportunity to learn lessons from the pandemic and transform these lessons into recommendations for the future.

This committee will focus on four key pillars: health, democracy and fundamental rights, societal and economic impact, and the EU and the World. During the next twelve-months, the COVI committee, with its 38 Members, will make use of various methods to analyse the impact and the response to the pandemic: it will hold hearings with experts, invite authorities, request documents and undertake missions when needed. The aim is to submit a final report with the ‘lessons learned’ and recommendations for the future.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. Can’t pick only one piece of work as my work in the EP is so varied. There have been two standout issues though. I was the European Parliament’s Rapporteur on the Digital Operational Resilience Act (DORA) that seeks to strengthen the protection of our financial services from ICT and ultimately cybersecurity risks. We secured a provisional political agreement with the European Council last month. It was my first time negotiating on behalf of the Parliament on a legislative file.

Secondly, my work on the Animal Transport committee. Sadly, on both sides of the argument, a black or white position is taken. I chose a different route. I secured considerably stronger protections for animals while also enabling the industry to continue. I’ve always said it was possible to do both and was proud of my role in delivering Parliament’s final position to the Commission. Crucially, I was part of a coalition that overturned previous parliamentary decisions that, if implemented, would have been detrimental to jobs in Ireland.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. I suppose the biggest regret I have so far in this parliamentary term is the issue of Rule of Law infringements. To be fair to MEPs, we have consistently voted to sanction Member States that flout basic laws concerning human rights, democracy, freedom and equality.

Unfortunately, the European Council and Commission has failed to listen to the will of the Parliament. This month I supported a motion of censure against the Commission if they insist on distributing RRF funds to Poland in spite of their flagrant Rule of Law breaches. The EU is not an ATM. It is a Union of values.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. After nearly 30 years in both Seanad and Dáil Éireann, I was used to a ‘them versus us’ system of parliamentary democracy – a clear government bloc and a clear opposition bloc. The European Parliament is far from what I was used to. Compromise is essential. On any given day, I negotiate with both the left and the right blocs.

Perhaps it’s more relevant to us in the Renew Europe group as we are fundamentally a centrist block – we can do deals with both sides. In a way, it makes work more interesting, but it wasn’t something I was expecting.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. Irish people seem to think that the EU is all-powerful and has an unlimited pot of money. In fact, the opposite is true. The EU budget is about €165 billion per year – about twice the total Irish budget. The only powers the EU has are the powers the national governments have agreed to share, and even then, it’s still quite limited.

That’s why the Conference on the Future of Europe has been important, and why the planned Convention on potential Treaty Change is crucial. If we want the EU to do more, we will have to a) give it the authority to do things on our behalf and b) give it the money to do that job. Irish people need to think long and hard about the type of EU they want.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. Two issues strike me when asked about future priorities. The first one is something Irish people should be aware of – the European Banking Union; the missing piece of the puzzle as I like to call it. Despite the Single Market, banking is still fundamentally a national concern and it’s costing Irish people a lot of money due to high interest rates.

The second issue is the area of research and innovation with a view to kick starting a European renaissance in terms of enterprise. Where are the European Apples, Microsofts or Facebook? The EU is too dependent on third country suppliers in a whole range of areas. I saw it first hand when negotiating DORA. We need to invest in R&D and support local start-ups all the way until they can compete on a global scale.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. I work across a wide range of policy areas. As the First Vice Chair of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly and the Standing Rapporteur for Trade with the UK, I work on our relationship with the UK, in particular the Northern Ireland Protocol. I’m also very active in human rights files, and in the last 12 months I led negotiations for resolutions on the human rights situations in Myanmar and Cambodia.

I’m involved in discussions across all energy files. One file I have been deeply involved with is the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). I was the rapporteur (author) of the Implementation Report on the EPBD, which was passed last December. I’m currently the EPP negotiator for the revision of the EPBD, and we’re working to use what we have learnt in the Implementation Report to improve the legislation. 

Decarbonisation of the buildings sector is vital to deliver on EU climate and energy objectives. In Ireland buildings account for 36% of our greenhouse gas emissions, where around half of our residential heat comes from old and polluting individual oil-fired boilers. 

Furthermore, the renovation wave will create green jobs and help the economic recovery. Energy refurbishment of buildings is labour-intensive, and the industry is dominated by local businesses. 

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. This is my third term as an MEP, and this term has been different, and perhaps a little disappointing, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Like many businesses and organisations, the European Parliament struggled at first to work remotely with the same level of efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore, we have ground to make up before the end of this term to make sure we deliver on our targets.  

Q. If this is not your first term as an MEP, do you perceive a change in how the European Parliament is operating between your first year in office and now?

A. The largest change I see is down to the absence of UKIP MEPs, who were so often disruptive and uncooperative during plenary sessions. Now we have more MEPs from the political extremes than during my first time, but actually, I find that the Parliament is operating more smoothly.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. I would like to make sure Irish votes are aware of two things in particular. The first is to do with the functioning of the European Parliament. The Parliament doesn’t have a government, so you can only get results if you are capable of working hard and building alliances and majorities. This is an institution built on compromises. A punchy speech doesn’t do anything to impact change on legislative proposals.

The second is how many of our rights derive from the EU. Ireland first introduced gender equality legislation in order to join the EEC (the predecessor of the EU), and it was only then that the marriage bar for women in the public service was lifted. We also get so many economic rights stemming from the EU, from compensation for delayed flights to consumer rights for online shopping.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. Climate change of course has to be our number one priority. We need to deliver a practical energy transition and the decarbonisation of the economy and the built environment. The targets have been set, now it’s time to ensure that each country meets those targets.

We need to be able to draw a line under Brexit, but this of course will also require the will of the UK government.

I believe we need to clarify the position of applicant countries so that the EU can grow. It will also be vital to help coordinate efforts to rebuild Ukraine.

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. I was the Parliament’s lead negotiator (Rapporteur) on far-reaching environmental legislation, the 8th Environment Action Programme. It’s the EU’s legally-binding framework programme for environment policy from now until 2030. I’m immensely proud to have steered it through the various stages on its journey towards enactment, which happened in March.

It lays down six priority objectives around: climate mitigation, climate adaptation, transitioning to a circular economy, zero-pollution, protecting and restoring biodiversity, and reducing the EU’s massive production and consumption footprints. The programme lays down the goal of a Wellbeing Economy for the EU, the first time in a legal text, and includes an obligation on the European Commission to begin measuring progress by looking at more indicators than just GDP.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. Disappointed, no, but certainly frustrated at times. While I understand the complexities around bringing legislation through parliament makes it a slow and arduous process, as a Green I want to see decisive, swift action to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies we are in. I was generally impressed with how swiftly the parliament responded to the Covid emergency and would like to see the same drive and ambition replicated around addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. It has been a steep learning curve. The workload is immense and it’s relentless and pressurised. I have a fantastic team around me though, who work hard to support me around the work we’re doing. We’ve been engaged in many important projects over the course of the past couple of years, even despite the challenges that Covid presented.

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. That its origins lie in an organisation known as the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community. In its current iteration, the EU (formerly the EEC) was founded in the wake of World War 2 with a sole purpose, which was to create a lasting peace in the area. I think that’s a fine legacy, and as a peace activist, one I’m proud to support, and will continue to work towards.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. First and foremost the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Within these areas, I have particular interests in dramatically reducing plastic waste and increasing marine protection. Other areas of interest include human rights – particularly around gender and equality, both within the EU and outside of it. 

Q. What is the piece of work you have been involved with in the European Parliament in the past 12 months of which you are most proud?

A. I am a member of both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Security and Defence Committee in the Parliament.  I am proud of myself for continuing to speak out against the relentless militarisation of the planet, for trying my best to be a voice for peace when I am surrounded day in and day out by voices for war and militarisation and hawks. 

I am also proud of my work on the Environment Committee.  In the last 12 months I’d have to say I am particularly proud of my work as shadow rapporteur on the revision of Aarhus regulation.

Q. Have you felt disappointment in this current term (since 2019) in what the European Parliament has or has not achieved? If yes, please explain.

A. The lack of climate ambition is so deeply disappointing. The Climate Law is so disappointing. The new CAP regulation is so disappointing too, both in terms of how it fails to redistribute funds to smaller farms and also in its lack of climate ambition.

The European elections saw a wave of ‘green’ voting and I think many people, including myself, thought the Parliament would have a bigger overall progressive majority in terms of climate politics. If you pay attention to the vote on the revision of Emissions Trading System at the plenary session this month, it is deeply disappointing and shows in particular how Fine Gael’s EPP group so often form an alliance with the far right to block real progress on climate issues. The urgency of climate change mitigation seems to be lost on these people.

Q. If you are a first-time MEP, how did your expectation of how the European Parliament would work measure up to the reality you have experienced?

A. I am surprised by how right-wing the Parliament is. It is probably 90% right wing. 

Q. What would you want Irish voters to know about the EU which you think they may not be aware of?

A. The increasing and rapid militarisation of the EU.  Also, its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and the pushbacks against these at its borders by its border agency Frontex is appalling, dreadful, and I’m not sure people in Ireland are very aware of this. The current Commission President has repeatedly also made common cause with Israel, and stated clearly that Israel’s values are the EU’s values.  I’m not sure many people in Ireland would share the values of an apartheid state.

Q. What issue or issues would you like the EU to prioritise in the next five years?

A. Deep carbon and methane emissions cuts and radical nature restoration. The upcoming legislative process for the methane emissions reduction in the energy sector will be crucial in this respect, as well as new nature restoration law which the Commission published this week.

Both in terms of legislation and implementation/enforcement. We are already experiencing climate breakdown and are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction and yet the EU is taking an incremental change approach to the climate and biodiversity crises. 

  • This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here. 

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