Mark Durkan to run for Fine Gael in European elections

Former SDLP leader will stand alongside former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald in Dublin

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as he was announced as a Fine Gael candidate for the European elections in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as he was announced as a Fine Gael candidate for the European elections in Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Irish citizens in Northern Ireland should not be left without representation in the European Parliament after Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said as he promoted former SDLP leader Mark Durkan’s MEP candidacy on Monday.

Mr Varadkar unveiled Mr Durkan, a former Westminster MP and Member of the Stormont Assembly, as Fine Gael’s second candidate for the four seat Dublin European Parliament constituency.

The former Foyle MP and former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald are the only two candidates before the party selection convention in Clontarf Castle on Wednesday evening.

Mr Durkan said his standing in the election is a “big ask” of Dublin voters , but he hopes polling day on May 24th will be a “green jersey day with a strong turnout to send a message to Brexiteers that the Irish people as a whole value the EU in a fundamental way”.

Both he and Mr Varadkar sought to cast the move in the same vein as the Taoiseach promised northern nationalists they would “never again be left behind by an Irish Government”.

The Taoiseach made this statement in December 2017 at an earlier stage in the Brexit process which saw initial agreement on the backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border.

“The Taoiseach has followed through on the public promise he made which was that Irish citizens in the North would not be left behind,” Mr Durkan said.

“I recognise this is a big ask of the people of Dublin. It is asking them to think about the extra seat that has come to Dublin.”

Dublin is one of two Irish constituencies which gain a seat, going from a three to a four seater, because of Brexit. Ireland South will increase from four seats to five seats.

“At this point in time, as Brexit continues to present enormous challenges, we need a place to hear people like Mark Durkan and that place is in the European Parliament,” Mr Varadkar said.

Important vote

“Instead of a border poll, I’m asking the people of Dublin to cast a more important vote, to vote on the 24th of May as if there was no border and to elect somebody who has served both parts of our island in the past and has much more to offer in the years ahead.

“I don’t want the people of Northern Ireland, especially the hundreds of thousands of people who exercise their Irish citizenship and their European citizenship to have no representation in Europe. I don’t want them ever left behind again.”

Mr Durkan led the SDLP from 2001 to 2010, assuming the leadership from John Hume. The 58-year-old briefly served as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister alongside the Ulster Unionist Party’s first minister David Trimble.

He acknowledged he may not be “on top of all the issues” that could be expected to concern TDs in the capital, such as transport infrastructure, and added he will continue to live in Northern Ireland but will maintain a Dublin office.

“I might wear a Fine Gael vest in this election but everyone will see an SDLP jersey underneath. I can’t hide that and it is to Fine Gael’s credit that they can respect that and accept those terms.”

Fine Gael’s current Dublin MEP, Brian Hayes, announced late last year that he would not seek re-election and intended to leave politics. The former Dublin South West TD and minister of state is to take up a role with the Irish Banking and Payments Federation after his term in the European Parliament.