Harney and McDonald clash on EU attendance


DUBLIN SEAT:THERE WERE sharp exchanges yesterday between Minister for Health Mary Harney and Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald over the latter’s attendance record at the European Parliament.

With poll figures indicating that Ms McDonald will be fighting for the last seat in Dublin against Fianna Fáil MEP Eoin Ryan and Socialist Party candidate Joe Higgins, Mr Ryan received a boost with a show of support from former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox and a recommendation by former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald that Fine Gael voters should transfer to him instead of Ms McDonald and Mr Higgins.

Speaking as he was having his photograph taken with Mr Ryan at Dublin airport, Mr Cox said: “This is not a national election but it is to elect people to the European Parliament.

“And I would urge people to vote and continue their preferences for candidates who are unequivocally pro-Europe to represent Ireland in the parliament.

“I would also encourage  people to do this in the context of the forthcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum.”

Dr FitzGerald told RTÉ’s News at Oneprogramme: “It is a European election; it is important that if at all possible all our representatives, or as many as possible, are supporters of the Lisbon Treaty.”

He continued: “Solidarity and pro-Lisbon is important, and if that means Fianna Fáil people voting down the line for Gay Mitchell, fair enough, or if it means Fine Gael or Labour people voting for Eoin Ryan before Higgins or McDonald, then that is the way that it should be, I believe.”

Meanwhile, after Ms Harney criticised the Sinn Féin MEP’s level of attendance at the parliament, Ms McDonald accused the Minister of prejudice against her as a woman politician taking maternity leave.

Speaking on Dublin’s Grafton Street, where she was canvassing with party leader Gerry Adams, Ms McDonald said: “It is utterly despicable that a politician such as myself, one of very few women in Irish political life, one of even fewer with young children, would be maliciously attacked for having the temerity to take maternity leave, to which I was entitled.”

Rejecting Ms McDonald’s comments outright, Ms Harney said: “It is ridiculous for Mary Lou McDonald to suggest that I am attacking her as a woman.

“My comments regarding Mary Lou have nothing at all to do with gender.

“The reality is that her poor record in the European Parliament has nothing whatsoever to do with maternity leave.

“Last year, over two years after her maternity leave finished, she missed 55 per cent of votes in the parliament.

“In September she even missed a full day of voting in order to go to the Sinn Féin tent at the ploughing championships.  The proof of this is to be found on Sinn Féin’s own website.

“Let the public decide which is more revealing – the fact that I draw attention to her poor attendance record or the fact that she hides behind the defence of maternity leave.”

Ms McDonald commented that “I go to the ploughing championships every year”.

“One of my duties is to be in touch with the farmers of north Dublin who help to feed the rest of the country.

“Liam Aylward MEP (Fianna Fáil) was also at the ploughing championships, which is where he should be; I don’t see Mary Harney harassing him.”

She added: “As a sitting MEP I also took a leading role in the Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign last year. That was my responsibility.

“This was the biggest decision the Irish people were going to make in very many years.”