‘The one thing you’ve got to do is be remembered in politics’: Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is heading back to Brussels

Long-standing Midlands-North-West MEP secured his third consecutive term in this year’s European elections

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan at the TF Royal Theatre count centre in Castlebar for the Midlands-North-West constituency. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

At the conclusion of counting in the Longford-Roscommon constituency following the 2002 general election, unsuccessful candidate Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan stood up and made a promise.

“I hope that in the future, I can go on to become an elected TD, and I’ll without doubt be contesting the next general election, and if it doesn’t work out that time, next one, and if it takes until the day I die, I’ll keep contesting general elections,” he said, speaking from a podium in the count centre.

By that stage, Flanagan had made a name for himself, thanks to his outlandish style of campaigning on cannabis legalisation and a goatee that earned him a nickname that stuck.

A lot has happened since then. Flanagan first sat on Roscommon County Council in 2004, was elected to Dáil Éireann in 2011, before winning a seat in the European Parliament in 2014, and again in 2019.


Flanagan still sports the Ming the Merciless goatee he wore when he stood up in the count centre and pledged to run for election until he made it to Dáil Éireann. There is an argument that his facial hair helped him regain his seat in Midlands-North-West on Thursday evening.

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“The one thing you’ve got to do is be remembered in politics,” he tells The Irish Times, sitting in the TF Royal Hotel in Castlebar before his election. “I grew up in a county where you had to be Doherty, or you had to be a Leyden, to get elected. And it wasn’t necessarily down to whether they were effective or not, but that was the name that was ringing around in people’s heads.”

“That’s where the Ming came from. It was so that people would remember you.”

Indeed, the success of Fine Gael’s Nina Carberry, the former jockey on the cusp of comfortably winning a seat in Midlands-North-West, is a prime example of the importance of name recognition in European elections, former MEP and sitting TD for Sligo-Leitrim Marian Harkin says.

“Visibility and recognition play a huge role,” Harkin says. “Ming is recognisable for many different reasons.”

Harkin also notes that Flanagan’s work on agricultural issues – especially in a rural constituency like Midlands-North-West – helped his vote in this election.

Initially elected to Brussels as a self-described Eurosceptic, Flanagan says that he now understands how change can be affected through European legislation.

Flanagan speaks about his work on the Common Agricultural Policy, and how an amendment he developed has helped to improve payments to smaller farmers in his constituency, moving more European money into areas of Connacht with marginal land.

“It wouldn’t traditionally be seen as an area that the left would represent, small scale farmers, but I think that’s an area that the left have to represent,” says Flanagan, a member of The Left political group in the European Parliament.

Says Harkin: “It won’t get you votes in Galway city, but it’ll get you votes in Castlebar [ ...] if you’re seen to be good on rural issues.”

Alongside farmers, Flanagan’s broad church of voters span the political spectrum, in his estimation.

“It’s everything from farmers on marginal land to people who want to see drugs taken out of the criminal underworld, and want to see cannabis legalised, and carers,” he says. “In a constituency as big as this, you have such a wide spread spectrum of issues, and such a wide spectrum of people that you can’t just box yourself into one particular area.”

To meet those people, Mr Flanagan and a modest team of canvassers – including his daughter Isabelle (21) as campaign manager – began an intensive campaign trail in April, setting out to shake hands in as many parts of Midlands-North-West as possible. “It resulted in me getting to canvas in 238 towns,” Flanagan says.

Flanagan with his daughters Isabelle (right), who served as his campaign manager, and Saoirse. Photograph: John O'Grady

Flanagan, a married father of three, spent five days in Co Donegal, where, he says, he ultimately received a healthy chunk of first preference votes.

This was likely down to his support of the defective concrete block homeowners, a key electorate issue in Co Donegal and parts of Connaught.

In recent years, Flanagan facilitated homeowners affected by the crisis in asking for a European Union investigation into the use of defective mica and pyrite blocks in the construction of homes in Ireland.

Following a fact-finding mission to Co Donegal in late 2023, an EU Parliament committee said that it was imperative that the Government’s defective blocks redress scheme was improved.

“Ming has been our voice in Europe,” says Ali Farren, a newly elected councillor in Co Donegal with the 100% Redress party.

Long past the days where he was a one-issue candidate focused on cannabis legalisation, Flanagan returns to Europe where he hopes to advocate for a “just transition”: To enable the radical changes demanded by the climate crisis without alienating the ordinary person.

He is critical of green policies that do not allow for nuance around how those who are worse off in society are affected.

“This is an existential threat to my children, and their grandchildren, and all my neighbours and all the people I know. If we’re going to do something about this, we’ve got to do it in such a way that the majority of people who can’t afford it, can afford to do it.”