A dialogue on EU but who is listening?

 

Sir, – Last week Taoiseach Leo Varadkar received a very warm welcome in the European Parliament where he delivered an impressive speech on the future of Europe. In Ireland, the Department of Foreign Affairs is organising “Citizens’ Dialogues” on the very same topic, “The Future of Europe”, at a number of venues throughout the country.

Three of these are being held in the constituency I represent at venues in Galway, Donegal and Meath. Imagine my complete surprise when I checked the dates to see that two out of the three meetings are scheduled for dates when MEPs are required to be present in Strasbourg and to vote in the plenary session of the Parliament.

This means, in effect, all four MEPs representing the Midlands, North and West constituency will be unable to attend the meetings in Galway and Meath, unless of course they miss their votes in Strasbourg.

I fully understand these are “Citizens’ Dialogues” but surely they will expect their directly elected representatives to the European Parliament to be there, to dialogue, to take on board their views, to outline the role of the European Parliament in this process and to respond to queries, questions, etc.

Obviously a decision was taken that MEPs would not be part of any panel and while I think it’s odd that one MEP at least was not included on each panel, it beggars belief that two out of three meetings have been scheduled when MEPs are required to be present to vote in the European Parliament.

I contacted the office of Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee to alert her to the situation. I received a very brief reply apologising that the dialogues didn’t work with my calendar. I was completely taken aback as my calendar is not the issue; it’s the calendar of all four MEPs representing their constituency. I was also informed that the events were planned for Thursday evening because MEPs had to travel. Indeed we have, but short of bilocation, it is not possible to vote in Strasbourg on a Thursday and make a 6.30pm meeting in either Meath or Galway.

The icing on the cake was an invitation to a briefing on this initiative in Leinster House which was scheduled for – yes, you guessed it – another Strasbourg voting day. It’s a bit like holding “Citizens’ Dialogues” on Ireland’s future to which TDs would be invited at a time when they had to be present in the Dáil chamber to vote.

One of the complaints we often hear in regard to the EU is the perception of a democratic deficit. It is such a shame to see evidence of that in the organisation of these dialogues on Europe’s future. – Yours, etc,

MARIAN HARKIN, MEP

European Parliament,

Brussels.