*Grace O’Sullivan MEP. Photograph: John Mangan
Every 5 years, around half the people of Clare go through the same ritual. Just two years ago, roughly 50,500 of us did it. For some, it was the culmination of much preparation. For others, it was simply going through the motions. For the majority, they’ve never given it a second though since. I speak, of course, about the European Parliamentary elections.
For a large section of the population, most would struggle to name all five Clare MEPs, let alone recount the last they heard from them. Nevertheless, the decisions and actions of these people have impact of our everyday lives. Most of us will have heard one or all of them talking about Brexit, Vaccinations, or EU grants at some point but what else have Clare’s 5 MEPs been hitting the headlines for in the near two years since their election?
Poll topper in May 2019, Sean Kelly easily retained his seat without much fuss. Since then, the ex-GAA President has been campaigning on many issues but is getting most coverage for his promotion of Ireland as a substitute location for Erasmus students from the continent now that the UK has left the block, wanting to change Ireland to Summertime permanently and end the practise of biannually changing the clocks, steadfastly protecting CAP payments and winning the Industry, Research & Innovation award in The Parliament Magazine’s annual MEP Awards. He remains a highly regarded politician in Brussels and a potential future Fine Gael candidate for the Irish Presidency, if certain sources are to be believed.
Following Kelly in the poll in 2019 was Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher. Having defied his party leaders wishes to run, he secured his place on the FF ticket by HQ addition after initially losing the selection convention to his running mate, Malcolm Byrne. Since then, however, Kelleher has not looked back, being vocal on issues such as Digital Green Certs to speed up post Covid travel, price transparency in the food chain, the state covering the cost of mandatory hotel quarantine for returning Irish Erasmus students, and also critical of An Taisce for taking a case against a new Glanbia cheese manufacturing plant. However, he also had to apologise for breaching self-isolation protocols in attending an FF Parliamentary Party meeting last Summer having only just flown in from Brussels.
Mick Wallace was third over the line in the last European elections and has been as vocal as ever within the Parliament. His pronouncements have garnered accusations of “fake news” and have been heavily criticised by many NGOs, charities and advocacy groups in recent weeks with regard to his dismissal of the chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime in Syria. He has repeated, in the Parliament, shocking and completely unsubstantiated claims or Islamic militant links, against the White Helmets charity group in Syria. He also gained notoriety in attacking the Belarusian opposition leader in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, claiming she was nothing more than a “puppet of western neoliberalism”. He similarly claimed that Ukraine’s issues were a fault of Europe, as opposed to Russia, who were the ones who annexed a part of that country illegally. Time and time again, Wallace has used his position as a representative of the people of Clare, and Ireland South, to act as seemingly nothing more than a ventriloquist dummy for the the Kremlin without explanation.
Last over the line in 2019, Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan has been possibly the most vocal of the lot when it comes to the Green New Deal at the heart of the future of European budgeting. She has also been to the fore of pushing for more sustainable fishing practices and looking for legislation on protected marine environments. She has also leant her voice to condemn the practice of ‘Gay Conversation Therapy’, liking it to torture, and of anti-LGBTQ measures that have recently cropped up in Poland. O’Sullivan was a proponent of the Greens entering Government after the 2020 General Election and pointed to the ability to secure a wide-ranging environmental bill and better, sustainable, public transport network as reasons for entering coalition. One thing she was keen for the Greens to press in Government was for the abandonment of the Shannon LNG terminal project.
Finally, Ireland South gained an extra MEP in FG’s Deirdre Clune on the day the UK left the block. Since her return to the Parliament at the beginning of last year, she has campaigned hard on the issue of plastics in our oceans and seafood, has sought for funding for Erasmus programmes to be doubled, and for vital supports to our tourism industry in a post Covid world. Although in the EP less time than her colleagues this term, her previous experience has made up for lost time.
All in all, the five have certainly been active. Whether or not those actions have all been positive is a matter of the individual voter. We collectively need to pay more attention as to what they’re doing on our behalf abroad if we are to accurately hold them to account.