Brussels – where decisions are made affecting day-to-day life in Ireland

With over 60% of Irish laws originating in Brussels, I joined a delegation of Irish journalists in Brussels to learn the thoughts of our newly elected Irish MEPs in Brussels.

Representing over 375 million voters, there are over 750 elected MEPs from all over Europe working within the EU Parliament. It might appear from the outside that the chances of getting anything done are next to near impossible in a body of that size. However, the real engine of the European Parliament lies within the 20 policy committees associated with the European Parliament.

Newly-elected Deirdre Clune, Fine Gael explained: “Committees are all important here, and all the work is done in committees.”

Key committees of interested to Irish farmers include:

  • Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, which holds responsibility for the operation and development of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Irish members of this committee include, Matt Carty, Sinn Fein, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Independent, and Mairead McGuinness, Fine Gael; and,
  • Committee on Environment, Public Health, and Food Safety, which holds responsibility for environmental policy, programmes in the field of public health, and food safety, including food labelling, veterinary legislation, and the European Food Safety Authority. The Irish MEPs involved in this committee are Nessa Childers, Independent, Lynn Boylan, Sinn Fein, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Independent, and Mairead McGuinness, Fine Gael.

However, the involvement of MEPs in rural matters outside of these select committees is also evident. For example, Marian Harkin is very much involved with constituent concerns relating to the building of 180 meter tall wind turbines across the midlands. Marian is campaigning for greater set-back distances of these structures from residential dwellings. She also highlighted the fact that wind-turbines constructed in Ireland are regulated with an acceptable noise level of 45 decibels, whereas limits of less than 35 decibels are the norm in Denmark, Germany, USA and Canada. From a noise perspective this is a significant difference.

Likewise, as a member of the Transport and Tourism, Deirdre Clune is focused on securing funding for port infrastructure vital to the service of our export oriented industries.

It is evident from meeting with our European representatives that they do, (for the most part), communicate and collaborate with fellow Irish MEP’s to build consensus on key initiatives for the benefit of the Irish electorate. That said, differences of opinion exist, the LEADER programme being a good example.

Fine Gael highlights the benefits of rolling LEADER into broader countywide structures that also incorporate local enterprise boards and Enterprise Ireland expertise. It is felt that this reorganisation of LEADER funding will also bring greater transparency to include;

  • An open and fair tendering process, ensuring greater competition and value; and,
  • Places oversight of the program in the hands of elected officials, thereby giving citizens a greater say in how the programme is managed.

The Sinn Fein representatives in Europe have reservations about this approach. They raise concerns that LEADER has become too bureaucratic, and fears that under the auspices of county councils funding allocation will come under the control of county managers. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was even more vocal in his concerns stating that unelected county executives will really decide how monies are spent, and worries that as a consequence funding may be used to “cover up holes and balance the books”. Ming states that he is evangelical in his passion to have such funding decisions placed in the hands of local communities.