Alice Mary Higgins seeks European seat under ‘equality, peace’ platform

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan says he would be the only ‘authentic voice’ for NI if elected

Senator Alice Mary Higgins at her campaign launch in Dublin on Monday. .Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Senator Alice Mary Higgins at her campaign launch in Dublin on Monday. .Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Senator Alice Mary Higgins, the daughter of President Michael D Higgins, is to stand as an Independent candidate for Dublin in the European Parliament elections.

Ms Higgins announced her candidacy on Monday and said she would help Ireland make its voice heard “in key European debates on equality, environment, economy and peace”.

She launched her candidacy by gathering 60 Dublin voters to sign her nomination papers. A candidate for the European Parliament can be nominated by a political party, by paying a financial deposit or by gathering the signatures of 60 people whose names are on the electoral register.

Ms Higgins said she “chose this method of nomination because it reflects what I want for the EU, a more direct connection with the public”.

“Europe is more than its institutions, it is made up of places and people and shared principles,” she said.

As the May 24th polling day approaches, former SDLP leader Mark Durkan who is also contesting the Dublin constituency said he would be the only “authentic voice” for Northern Ireland in Europe if he was elected to the European Parliament.

The Fine Gael candidate for Dublin has pitched himself as the the best placed to defend the integrity and interests of the Good Friday Agreement, and as the only representative of the North when it no longer has its own elected MEPs.

“I will be a representative for Dublin. I will also be an authentic voice from the North,” he told reporters on Monday.

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan speaks to the media in Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Cate McCurry/PA Wire
Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan speaks to the media in Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Cate McCurry/PA Wire

Other candidates already in the field in the capital include Frances Fitzgerald, also for Fine Gael, Barry Andrews for Fianna Fáil, Lynn Boylan for Sinn Féin, Alex White for Labour, Ciarán Cuffe for the Green Party, Gary Gannon for the Social Democrats and Éilis Ryan for the Workers’ Party. Gillian Brien is standing for Solidarity-People Before Profit. There is also ongoing speculation that Independents4Change Dublin Fingal TD Clare Daly will also run, although Ms Daly has yet to confirm or deny that she will do so.

If Britain has left the EU by the time of the European Parliament elections, Dublin will be a four-seat constituency.

If Brexit has been delayed past polling day and Britain has to take part in the elections, Dublin will be a three-seater, although the fourth-placed candidate will effectively be placed on standby to take up their seat when Britain leaves the EU.

Ms Higgins said other important decisions, aside from Brexit, were being made at an EU level.

“A new post-2020 EU strategy will soon be negotiated and this offers possibilities as well as dangers,” she said. “Europe has historically played an important role in improving quality of life in Ireland, raising employment standards and supporting equal rights. However, during the years of austerity, ground was lost and trust eroded.

“The problems currently facing communities in Dublin around housing, childcare, poverty and precarious work are echoed in cities across Europe. They have similar causes and demand collective solutions. To restore social cohesion and tackle climate change, we cannot rely on business as usual. Responding to these challenges will require imagination and investment.”

Ms Higgins has worked on her father’s presidential election campaigns, but insisted she had been involved in many campaigns, such as those for same sex marriage, to repeal the Eighth Amendment and to liberalise divorce laws.

She was also reluctant to make any connection between her father and her own efforts to become an MEP, adding: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for him to endorse any candidate.”

“Anybody who has seen me in politics knows I have never used, or sought to use, that connection,” she said. It had “never been part of any of my platforms or my materials. Of course I am sticking to the SIPO rules and I really have respected the separation of powers and I have really proven that in my work in the Seanad over the last few years,” she said.

“The benefit for me is that I have grown up in an activist household and that I have seen what people can do if they are working together. For me, the greatest boost is that it has given that sense of the solidarities we need. The fact that sometimes change seems impossible and you might be out on your own on it but that it does happen and it does come.

“So I think being part of campaigns from an early age: yes. That has given me a sense of if you work if, if you push the ideas, if you forge the connections and if you put your ideas out there, you can gather momentum.”

She also echoed a call from Labour leader Brendan Howlin for voters who supported candidates of the centre left to other like-minded candidates. Ms Higgins said she would put up around 1,000 posters, and confirmed she will serve a full term in the European Parliament if elected. Her fellow senators, Lynn Ruane and Frances Black, will be designated as her substitutes in the European Parliament.

Outlining his platform at an event under the #BackTheBackstop slogan, Mr Durkan said: “I would hope when I stand up I will stand up as an Irish citizen but also one who is resident in the North.

“The Taoiseach has promised that Irish citizens in the North will not be left behind including in their status as EU citizens.

“Irish citizens in the North will remain EU citizens. There is a way of making sure northern Ireland has a voice as a member of the European parliament.”

Mr Durkan said the next EU parliament would oversee the negotiations and ratify any agreement between the EU and the UK, provided there was a withdrawal agreement.

“When that happens it is important there is a voice there in team Ireland who is able to speak up for the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and make sure it is hardwired into any future agreement between the EU and the UK.

“Fine Gael invited me to stand in this election because they believe I have an experience and skill-set to bring to that task,” he said.

Asked whether his candidacy had led to any dissent in the SDLP given the party’s policy partnership with Fianna Fáil, he replied: “I remain a member at a central level of the SDLP. I am totally loyal and committed to the party. I understand fully whey the part has made a decision to have a policy partnership with Fianna Fáil. That is a legitimate response by both parties to the challenges raised by Brexit.”