What has your MEP been doing for the last five years?
We examine attendance, questions, work on debates and committees
The European Parliament in Strasbourg. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg
What has your MEP been doing for the past five years?
With just days to go until the European elections and candidates vying for constituents’ votes, it’s a good time to take a look at what Irish members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have been doing in Strasbourg and Brussels over the past five years.
Eleven MEPs were elected to the European parliament following the last election in 2014 and seven of them are currently seeking re-election.
These include Lynn Boylan (Sinn Féin), Mairead McGuinness (Fine Gael), Matt Carthy, (Sinn Féin), Luke Ming Flanagan (Independent), Sean Kelly (Fine Gael), Deirdre Clune (Fine Gael) and Liadh Ní Riada (Sinn Féin). Marian Harkin (Independent), Brian Hayes (Fine Gael) and Nessa Childers (Independent) are not seeking re-election, while Brian Crowley (former Fianna Fáil MEP) announced his decision to retire at the end of the current parliament due to ill health, in January.
MEPs are paid €8,611.31 a month in gross salary, plus a pension, and on leaving the parliament they receive a transition allowance worth up to €206,664, depending on the length of service.
Information published by the European Parliament on its website gives an insight into what it describes as the “main” and “other activities” of Irish MEPs over the past five years.
While this is not the full picture of an MEP’s work, as they also sit on committees and have other duties assigned that will take up their time, it does provide an insight into how active MEPs have been in the following areas.
How good have MEPs been at turning up to parliament?
Plenary sessions, where the parliament formally sits to vote on EU legislation and adopt its position on political issues, take place once a month in Strasbourg, France, for a four-day part-session from Monday to Thursday, and additional part-sessions are held in Brussels. All members are required to attend these.
Sean Kelly has the highest attendance rate of Irish MEPs, attending 96 per cent of the 279 sessions held since June 2014. Brian Crowley attended just two of the 278 plenary sessions, attending Strasbourg on September 18th, 2014, and December 18th, 2014. Mr Crowley was excused from all other plenary sittings by the president of the European Parliament. The president can excuse members from attending plenary sittings on grounds such as ill-health, serious family circumstances, maternity leave, or if the member is required elsewhere on behalf of the parliament. Mr Crowley has spoken in the past about the severe medical problems he has faced, and how they prevented him attending Parliament in recent years, but not from working, often from his hospital bed.
Contributions to plenary debates
The number of times an MEP speaks during plenary sessions and makes written declarations relating to the plenary debates are recorded by the European Parliament. Mairead McGuinness, who has served as vice-president of the European Parliament since 2017, has the greatest number of contributions of all Irish MEPs. This is in part due to the fact that many of her contributions are responses to other members’ speeches and questions, along with making points of order. As the EU Parliament data shows, Ms McGuinness is closely followed by Fine Gael party colleague Mr Kelly, while Independent Nessa Childers and Mr Crowley have made the lowest number of contributions to plenary sessions.
Work on reports
MEPs can also act as rapporteurs and/or shadow rapporteurs. A rapporteur is the person on a parliamentary committee who drafts a report on proposals of a legislative or budgetary nature, or on many other issues. They can consult with experts and stakeholders on a given issue while drafting their report and are also responsible for drafting compromise amendments and negotiations with shadow rapporteurs. Reports adopted at committee level are then examined and voted on in plenary.
When MEPs are designated as shadow rapporteurs, they follow the progress of a particular report and negotiate compromise texts with the rapporteur. Brian Hayes has been appointed lead rapporteur on 11 reports, while Liadh Ní Riada has been appointed as shadow rapporteur on 111 reports, well ahead of all other MEPs, and three times more than her Sinn Féin colleague Matt Carthy who has acted as shadow on 35 reports. Six MEPs have never acted as a rapporteur on a report while two MEPs, Nessa Childers and Brian Crowley, acted as neither rapporteur nor as shadow rapporteur.
Work on opinions
As with reports, acting as a rapporteur and shadow rapporteur on opinions is also listed by the European Parliament as a key parliamentary activity. As explained by the European Parliament, “Committees may draft an opinion to a report of the responsible committee covering the elements linked to their committee remit. Rapporteurs of such opinions are also responsible for the drafting of compromise amendments and negotiations with shadow rapporteurs of the opinion”. Midlands-North-West MEP Marian Harkin has undertaken the role of opinions rapporteur the greatest number of times (20) of all current MEPs, while Ms Ní Riada has been appointed as shadow rapporteur for opinions 67 times.
Motions for resolution
Motions for resolution are also listed by the European Parliament as a main activity and are tabled on topical issues, at the request of a committee, a political group or at least 5 per cent of the members. As such, motions for resolutions are never put forward by just one MEP and are typically put forward by the European party the MEP belongs to, or by a number of parties together. Ms Harkin, an Independent MEP who is part of the ALDE Group, has put forward the greatest number of motions of Irish MEPs. All motions are later voted on in plenary session.
Oral questions must also be tabled by a committee, a political group or at least 5 per cent of the parliament’s members. These questions must be answered orally and can be addressed to the European Commission, the Council or the vice-president of the Commission/High Representative of the Union.
OTHER PARLIAMENTARY ACTIVITIES
Written explanations of vote
Written explanations of vote fall under “Other parliamentary activities” on the European Parliament’s website. MEPs can submit an explanation on why they voted in a particular way, or why they abstained on any of the votes held in the plenary. There is no limit to how long an MEP’s explanation can be. Independent MEP Luke Ming Flanagan has written the highest number of explanations of all Irish MEPs for his voting decisions, most of which are several lines long. In comparison, those of Mr Hayes and Mr Kelly are much shorter with many of the Fine Gael MEPs’ explanation of vote summed in one line such as Mr Hayes’s “I am voting in favour of this report as I have no objections” and Mr Kelly’s “I voted in favour of this report”.
Questions for a written answer
These questions can be put forward by an individual member, group, or parliamentary committee to the president of the European Council, the Commission or the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Answers are then given to the questions in writing. The questions vary hugely from, EU trade with Israeli settlements to use of funds at a film academy in North Macedonia. Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy has put forward the most questions, followed by party colleague Lynn Boylan, with Sean Kelly and Brian Crowley submitting the lowest number of questions for a written answer at 57 and 32 respectively.- This article was produced in conjunction with UCD Data Journalism