Tensions rise over Mick Wallace's and Clare Daly's views

Discomfort grows among fellow left-wing MEPs about the Irish pair’s recent behaviour

Tensions within the Left group in the European Parliament over Mick Wallace’s increasingly radical positions on Russia finally broke out into open disagreement in the spring.

Dutch MEP Anja Hazekamp spoke passionately about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur shot down over a part of Ukraine held by pro-Russian forces in 2014.

It killed 298 passengers and crew, 193 of them Dutch, and remains an open wound between Russia and the Netherlands, where a trial of four suspects in absentia is ongoing.

Discomfort had been growing with Wallace and Clare Daly for months, according to multiple MEPs and parliament sources, as Wallace tabled amendments on behalf of the group seeking to water down resolutions about Russia.

In one, he described the Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution as a “US-orchestrated coup”, as Moscow sees it. In another, he sought to delete a note that the parliament “continues to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea”.

In speeches, both Wallace and Daly accused the European Parliament of being “anti-Russian”, with Daly asking why MEPs were so worked up about the arrest of poison-survivor and opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

He is, she claimed, a “vicious anti-immigrant racist”, before asking where was the outcry about the recent arrest of anti-lockdown protesters in Brussels. Her speech was republished by Russian state media.

But Flight MH17 brought the rift between Wallace and Hazekamp into the open, though Hazekamp declined to comment for this article. In a February amendment, Wallace sought to delete from a parliament resolution a mention that a Dutch-led investigation “confirmed that Flight MH17 had been downed with the use of a Buk surface-to-air missile supplied by the Kursk-based 53rd anti-aircraft brigade of the Russian Ground Forces”.

The discussion in the Left group was described as robust, and starkly divided. “Some members don’t feel that we are represented by the statements of Mick Wallace,” a source said.

Sanctions

The recent sanction of Wallace and Daly for unauthorised election observer trips to Ecuador and Venezuela reflects the growing discomfort of fellow left-wing MEPs, and in other groups about the two.

Their use of their European Parliament platform to champion views shared by various authoritarian governments has caused bemusement, but sharp criticisms, too, across nationalities and political groups in the parliament.

Equally, it has strained an unspoken gentlemen’s agreement between Irish MEPs to avoid criticising each other outside of election time, as they frequently co-operate on pan-Irish issues.

During debates, Wallace and Daly are distinctive ever-present figures, requesting to speak when debates finish early thus multiplying the time they would usually have as members of the parliament’s smallest group.

Wallace has made more plenary speeches than any other Irish MEP, according to aggregated Parltrack data, with Daly not far behind.

Their trip to visit an Iranian-backed militia group in Iraq in March caused one colleague to gasp “What!” when he heard. Both MEPs appeared on a promotional video for Hashd al-Shaabi, which is locally accused of running extensive smuggling networks, intimidating civilians, which includes forces accused of sectarian attacks.

Praise

Presented as speaking on behalf of the European Parliament in the video and dressed in a long black conservative khimar, Daly praised the “egalitarian nature” and “inclusiveness” of the so-called Popular Mobilisation Forces.

On her return, Ms Daly spoke on the pair’s podcast about her experience in Iraq of passing through multiple checkpoints of armed men. “You’d have the different army and police and different militias…

“They’re everywhere, with tanks, with guns. But actually their demeanour and their interaction with you and the people is lovely,” she said, recalling a friendly interaction she saw between authorities and two young men on a moped. “In France the police would probably beat them up!”

She explained how the militia figures she had met had stressed their gratefulness to Iran for its support in combatting Isis, and noted that the Iraqi parliament had voted to ask US forces to withdraw.

“I think the priority for a number of the politicians we met is that the Americans must leave… the parliament voted for them to leave and now they’re an occupying power, so in that sense they’re fair game. Under international law they’re a legitimate target,” she said.

Syria

This past weekend, Wallace tweeted that he was enjoying the Italy-Austria match from Damascus, Syria. “Wonderful city, a wonderful people,” he wrote. “In a #Syria that is illegally occupied by #Israel #US #Turkey in total breach of International Law.”

In a parliament hearing days earlier with special assistant to president Joe Biden, Amanda Sloat, he argued that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had defended his country from “genocidal extremists”. Compared to US policies in the region, he inquired of Dr Sloat, “I ask you which is the more authoritarian?”

Particularly when it comes to atrocities in Syria, Wallace’s interventions have caused fury. In April, he confronted the director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Fernando Arias, during a committee meeting.

There, he put forward the conspiratorial claims championed by Syrian president Assad that western forces staged a chemical attack on civilians for which Assad is blamed.

Those truly to blame were the White Helmets, Wallace claimed – a frequently smeared Syrian volunteer rescue group which has extensively documented attacks by Assad and Russian forces in opposition-held areas.

The committee chairwoman, Nathalie Loiseau, broke in: “I would like to apologise to Syrian human rights activists who I have met, to the NGOs who work in Syria who I have met, to doctors in Syria who I have met, for what we have just heard,” she said.

Describing Wallace’s intervention as “fake news”, she said: “I cannot accept that you can call into question the work of international organisations, and that you call into question the words of the victims, in the way you have just done.”

Neo Nazis

Ms Daly, too, has aired much-criticised claims. After Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko forced down a Ryanair flight in May to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, she condemned the incident.

However, she said: “It would appear that the young fella they were bringing down had developed links with Neo Nazis in Ukraine. Doesn’t justify the action, but by all accounts a very unsavoury young fella.”

Such allegations about Protasevich had emerged quickly in Russian-language media, but news agency Agence France-Presse quickly debunked photographs that purportedly showed Protasevich in Nazi garb.

The EU fact-checking project EUvsDisinfo categorised the claims as deliberate disinformation, linked to broader efforts by Russia’s Vladimir Putin to portray the Kiev government, which leans towards Europe, as fascist.

Wallace has spoken about Ukraine, too, saying it is facing “a serious problem with far-right extremism and violence” and wanted to add the words “neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups” to an EP resolution about the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine in February.

Barry Andrews, a Fianna Fáil MEP, said authoritarian regimes were deliberately using disinformation against liberal democracies, adding that just 20 per cent of the world now lives in free countries.

“Liberal democracy is something that has to be guarded with each succeeding generation. We can’t be complacent about it, and disinformation presents a real threat to the way we operate our democracy,” he said.

Wallace and Daly did not respond to requests for comment.

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