Brian Crowley and Luke Flanagan’s absence rates cast doubt on logic of running as MEPs
Ireland’s MEPs generally seen as strong performers in EU politics
European Parliament: our MEPs face a conundrum that lies at the heart of the system – the less visible one is at home, the less likely one is to be re-elected
Six months on from the European elections, figures from VoteWatch Europe present an interesting snapshot into the activities of Ireland’s 11 MEPs.
Ireland’s dismal performance – its MEPs collectively have the poorest voting record of all 28 EU member states – is mainly due to the voting record of Brian Crowley and Luke Ming Flanagan, whose low voting rate has reduced the average figure. During the previous five-year term of the European Parliament, Ireland came 13th on the list in terms of voting participation by its MEPs.
Flanagan and particularly Crowley will elicit some sympathy due to their personal circumstances, but the absence of two Irish MEPs in Strasbourg raises questions about the decision to run for election to a parliament that sits outside the country in the first place. Both are entitled to an annual gross salary of approximately €95,000 plus expenses.
MEPs may argue that the voting figures do not reflect the full picture – their participation in committee meetings, contribution to reports, and the endless meetings with constituents, representation groups and other stakeholders, for example, are not included in the figures.
There is also the issue of Ireland’s particularly clientelist political culture which extends to European as well as national elections. Many member states operate a system in electing MEPs, which permits voters to vote for a list of candidates but not necessarily the order of the candidates on the list.
Nonetheless, despite Ireland’s poor performance in terms of participation in votes at the parliament in Strasbourg, Ireland’s MEPs are generally regarded as strong performers in the world of EU politics, with many having a presence on high-profile committees, such as economic affairs and agriculture.
May’s elections saw a number of new faces enter the Irish political scene. To some extent, the recent rise in support for independents and anti-government parties evident in opinion polls was already in motion during the European elections, which saw Sinn Féin and Independents win three seats each. Labour failed to elect any candidate, though Fine Gael did succeed in maintaining four seats.
The three Sinn Féin MEPs, however, lack the political experience of many of the other representatives, particularly Fine Gael’s four MEPs who are all experienced politicians and Independent MEPs such as Marian Harkin and Nessa Childers.
As the eighth term of the European Parliament approaches the end of its first six months, it’s still early days for the current assembly whose mandate runs until 2019. Nonetheless, Irish voters will be watching to see how the attendance and voting participation rates of their elected representatives in Europe play out in the coming years.