Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Europe calling

It’s that time again – the time when Europe comes calling for our ‘best and brightest’. No, not the Eurovision (although that’s coming soon too), but the European elections.

Forgive a note of sarcasm in ‘the best and brightest’, but it’s difficult to avoid. In Irish politics, Brussels has traditionally been a dumping ground for those who just don’t cut the mustard at national level. While it’s not easy to get elected in a European election (the sheer amount of votes required is hard to comprehend even for successful general election veterans – Sean O Neachtain polled over 62,000 votes in 2004), the contest is generally not reserved for the cream that has risen to the top of various parties.

Usually, promising candidates who could do well in national politics are lured to Brussels by some kind of carrot. Or are exiled because of a disagreement with the current party leadership – Munster MEP Brian Crowly has famously been at odds with party HQ for years, but is holding onto his Fianna Fáil seat in the hopes of a Presidential nomination.

Often, people are dragged out of semi-retirement to fly the flag, or high flyers with even higher profiles (former GAA President Sean Kelly, again in Munster, and the courting of Packie Bonner by Fianna Fáil this time round) are lured onto the ticket, often with promises of future General Election ticket spots.

And so it is, too, in the North West. Independents like Marian Harkin (and Dana before her, and Kathy Sinnott in Munster) do better in European elections, partly because most people have no idea, or much interest, in what MEPs actually do. And the political party system is not so important in Brussels – Harkin has allied herself with the ALDE, soon to become home to FF, for years, and receives all the support she needs from them.

The current crisis within Fianna Fáil, following the surprise resignation of Sean O Neachtain, is a telling one, because the facts are that nobody really wants a seat in Brussels. This, despite the fact that MEPs have more real power than TDs, with the same salary. They pass reams of legislation, some of which then has to be passed by the Dáil, and have a voice where it really counts in a lot of issues that can matter at local level (see Marian Harkin’s involvement in the Eyrecourt sludge case, in which a European body forced
the EPA to act after years of inaction by Galway County Council).

Speaking to the Galway Independent on Sunday, Aer Arann CEO Padraig O Ceidigh, who is by any measure a perfect fit for O Neachtain’s shoes, and would easily get douze points from the North Western jury, was still doubtful.

Not because he doesn’t fancy politics; not at all. Because he doesn’t fancy the European Parliament.

However, as mentioned above, Fianna Fáil in particular is well known for it’s carrot-based approach to European elections; for O Ceidigh, who would clearly relish an economic portfolio, there would be ample reward later on. He is someone who would almost certainly get elected in Galway, probably presenting a danger to Eamon O Cuív (who might not be so happy to see him embraced by Fianna Fáil), and would be competent in an economic portfolio, providing he could be taught to toe party line.

Within Fianna Fáil he is seen as a great white hope to retain O Neachtain’s seat, but it’s possible that his candidacy may cost more than Fianna Fáil can offer. Time will tell.

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