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How did Ireland’s MEPs perform in Europe over the last five years?

Coalition-building across political groups more important in European Parliament than in the Oireachtas

Top row (clockwise): Barry Andrews (FF), Chris MacManus (SF), Ciarán Cuffe (FF), Grace O'Sullivan (GP), Billy Kelleher (FF). 
Bottom row (clockwise): Maria Walsh (FG), Mick Wallace (Ind), Clare Daly (Ind), Seán Kelly (FG), Luke 'Ming' Flanagan (Ind)
The 10 Irish MEPs running for re-election: top row (clockwise): Barry Andrews (FF), Chris MacManus (SF), Ciarán Cuffe (GP), Grace O'Sullivan (GP), Billy Kelleher (FF). Bottom row (clockwise): Maria Walsh (FG), Mick Wallace (Ind), Clare Daly (Ind), Seán Kelly (FG), Luke 'Ming' Flanagan (Ind)

Ten of Ireland’s 13 MEPs are running for another term in the European Parliament, but exactly how did they fare over the last five years and what did they achieve?

Much of what you can achieve as an MEP depends on the political grouping you sit in. In the last term the parliamentary majority usually consisted of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), centrists Renew and centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D ). Fine Gael’s five MEPs sat with the EPP, Fianna Fáil’s pair are in Renew, the two Greens are in a Green grouping, with Chris MacManus, Luke “Ming” Flanagan, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace all in the Left group.

Daly (Dublin) and Wallace (Ireland South) are among the most well-known Irish MEPs within the wider Brussels bubble, as well as the most controversial. Positions taken by Daly and Wallace in speeches have been seen as favourable to authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and Iran. In particular the pair have been criticised for taking stances seen as soft on Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Daly has also come under pressure over her advocacy for dissident republican prisoners.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Daly said she and Wallace had been the subject of “smears” portraying them as supporters of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. She said her position was that peace negotiations should begin in Ukraine. This is something pro-Kyiv voices take to mean Ukraine conceding large swathes of ground taken by Russia in the conflict. Daly said she had consistently “condemned” the Russian invasion, but that the war was “unwinnable” for Ukraine.


“It will absolutely end up in a negotiated settlement,” she said.

While commentators frequently bash Wallace and Daly, their work rate is well regarded by fellow Irish MEPs, including those who vehemently disagree with their politics. Daly is seen as having been very prominently on the right side of the debate within the EU on Israel’s war in Gaza from the off.

Mick Wallace and Clare Daly giving an interview last November about Israeli attacks on Gaza. Photograph: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu via Getty Images

Sitting in the small Left grouping, the ability to shepherd legislation from a proposal into EU law is much more limited. As such they have used speeches in the parliament, later packaged into video clips for their large social media followings, to try to make their presence felt.

By that yardstick they were among the most active of the Irish MEPs, with Wallace making 613 speeches in the parliament chamber and Daly 534. Third behind the pair was Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly (Ireland South) who is recorded as making 431 speeches, according to data collated by the website ParlTrack, which monitors EU lawmaking.

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However, speaking time is just one measure of what an MEP is up to, and most of the policymaking work happens outside of the parliament chamber. That can include taking the lead on legislation as what is known as a rapporteur, negotiating for changes to draft laws within political groupings, or with MEPs from rival groups. An MEP could spend up to two years as the lead rapporteur on a given law, going through rounds and rounds of talks and drafts trying to secure its passage.

Ciarán Cuffe, the Green MEP from Dublin, is viewed by other MEPs as being effective during the last term. He was the lead negotiator on a new law around building energy performance. The law commits EU countries to renovate a portion of their housing stock that has the worst energy efficiency, while setting minimum energy standards for non-residential buildings.

Ciarán Cuffe

The law may not have got over the line without the help of Kelly, who has been in the European Parliament since 2009. As the EPP’s point person on the legislation, Kelly said he was “completely taken aback” by the opposition of many MEPs in his group.

Despite securing several concessions he said a political decision had been taken by the EPP leadership to oppose climate legislation in the last year of the term. It was a “really hard battle” to try to convince centre-right MEPs to get behind the proposed law.

“I was able to swing enough people in our group to get it passed,” he said.

Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald, who is not standing for re-election, is regarded as having had a strong five years, leading on a law to combat violence against women. Outgoing Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune was involved in the EU’s work on artificial intelligence, while the party’s MEP Colm Markey, who is also not contesting this election, is seen as someone who had a good grasp on policy details during his stint.

Deirdre Clune. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

One of the biggest pieces of legislation in the parliament’s term was the migration pact, a major overhaul of asylum policy that was years in the making. It will usher in a stricter approach to asylum seekers across the EU, with certain cases being fast-tracked and measures allowing countries to detain people in facilities at borders while their claim is processed.

The pact was formally adopted in mid-May, with countries being given two years to enact the reforms. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil MEPs voted for the agreement, while Irish MEPs in the Left group and Grace O’Sullivan in the Greens voted against most of the measures.

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Another significant piece of legislation was the Digital Services Act, which gave the European Commission more powers to regulate big social media and online platforms. The new laws, which fully came into force this February, have seen the EU open investigations into Meta and TikTok over online safety concerns. If online platforms are found to have breached the new regulations, they can be hit with heavy fines of up to 6 per cent of their global turnover.

Perhaps the most high-profile batch of policies of the last term was commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s “green deal” climate reforms to cut EU emissions in half by the end of the decade.

One of its landmark policies, the Nature Restoration Law, still hangs in the balance despite being passed by the parliament. A compromise to water down the law, which committed the EU to restore 30 per cent of natural habitats deemed to be in poor condition by 2030, had been agreed by parliament and the council, which represents member states. However, Hungary later joined Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands to block the proposed legislation being formally signed off.

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Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews (Dublin) has largely concentrated on foreign affairs and international development during his time in parliament, while Billy Kelleher (Ireland South) is seen as having done good work on economic and agriculture policy.

As somewhat of a celebrity candidate, Fine Gael’s Maria Walsh (Midlands-North-West) was at a disadvantage starting as an MEP without political experience. During her term, the 2014 Rose of Tralee winner focused on mental health and LGBT+ policy, but “didn’t set the world alight”, one parliamentary colleague said, echoing a sentiment expressed by several others familiar with the work of Ireland’s European parliamentarians.

Current MEP Maria Walsh (right) with fellow European election candidate Nina Carberry. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

None of the Irish MEPs had as bizarre a first week in the job as Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus, who started just as the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic began to dawn on Europe. Previously a councillor on Sligo County Council, he was co-opted into the Midlands-North-West seat vacated when Matt Carthy was elected to the Dáil in February 2020.

MacManus landed in Brussels on a Monday, signed into the parliament on a Tuesday, and on Wednesday all the MEPs were advised to travel home as countries started to weigh up lockdown measures. He spent his first six months as a parliamentarian working from a converted bedroom in Sligo, which he said “made the learning experience much more difficult”.

The shift to remote working meant informal face-to-face conversations before or after meetings, or casual interactions such as socialising over a drink, were no longer happening. Those conversations on the sidelines are often crucial in building a rapport with other MEPs, which can later be the difference in corralling support or opposition for some amendment or law. MacManus had been working on an EU law around ensuring stronger rights for people to be able to pay with cash, which didn’t get over the line by the end of the term.

Chris MacManus. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Luke “Ming” Flanagan, an Independent MEP for Midlands-North-West, came into the parliament in 2014 as someone deeply sceptical about the EU. After two terms he said he had a much greater appreciation for the positive role the union could play.

Distrust voters had of Brussels was often down to national politicians blaming the EU to cover their own backs on certain policies, Flanagan said.

“My Euroscepticism came from what the Government was saying: ‘Europe made us do this on farming, made us do this on the environment’, when it was the fault of the Irish Government,” he said.

A significant period of his term was overshadowed by a dispute involving a former member of his staff, Diarmuid Hayes, who left on bad terms. Hayes was later able to send a post from the politician’s Twitter account that gave the impression Flanagan had been searching for photos of former Green Party candidate Saoirse McHugh skinny-dipping.

The post was sent late one night in September 2020, with Flanagan stating the following morning that he had been hacked. It was only when Hayes was charged over the incident in September 2023 and later apologised this February, that the Roscommon politician was fully vindicated.

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Despite being involved in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) farmer subsidy reforms, Flanagan said he felt he had to keep his head down until the criminal process concluded.

“I couldn’t open my mouth ... That was mind-bendingly frustrating,” he said.

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan with Samuel Malisse of his legal team outside a Brussels court in February. Photograph: Jack Power

O’Sullivan, a Green MEP (Ireland South), said that as a single mother who is a carer for a daughter with special needs, the travel back and forth to the European Parliament took a significant toll.

“When I was in the Seanad, I was able to manage as I would only be up and down the road to Dublin,” she said.

During the term she pushed for EU legislation to govern soil quality, which will roll over into the next five-year mandate. O’Sullivan said the biggest learning curve had been the necessity of building coalitions to get things done, as the parliament was much more fluid than the Government-versus-Opposition nature of the Oireachtas.

“If you’re out on the edges, the extremes on either side, you won’t get the people around you to make the kind of change that you need,” she said.

“You can shout and scream in the plenary ... But I know what will happen to me, I will be isolated, I won’t be able to reach enough people.”

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