Migration, climate and farming factor in to Ireland’s European elections

Voting in Ireland’s European Parliament elections begins on Friday, as the country grapples with its future on climate, migration and agriculture deals in the EU.

The elections are held every five years and the ballots will be held on the same day constituents select their councillors in local elections.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) debate EU-wide legislation and work on the budget for the bloc.

Ireland’s next 14 MEPs will come from three constituencies – Dublin, South, and Midlands-North-West.

Dublin will elect four MEPs and the other two areas will be represented by five each.

European Parliament
The European Parliament in Strasbourg (Gareth Fuller/PA)

This was a gain for both parties compared with 2014, while their coalition partner the Green Party increased its zero-MEP position to two representatives in Strasbourg and Brussels.

However, after forming a coalition government in 2020 in which they faced a pandemic and a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking asylum in Ireland, the three parties are looking to hold steady in the EU elections.

Although it is currently the largest opposition party in Ireland’s Parliament, Sinn Fein was only able to elect one MEP in 2019 and will be seeking to strengthen this position in the light of more favourable, albeit waning, polling in the intervening years.

On the campaign trail, candidates say that constituents are often uncertain about where European competencies begin and end, not to mention what their individual EU representatives actually do.

As such, voters often take their opinions on national issues like housing to the ballot box as part of their decision-making.

An EU Flag
Ireland will elect 14 MEPs (Hollie Adams/PA)

The EU’s response to the conflict in the Middle East has been used as a campaign tool for various parties.

Central to this debate is the much-criticised role of the Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, as opposition parties accused her of providing cover for Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

Mr von der Leyen is seeking re-election on behalf of the EPP europarty, of which Fine Gael is a member.

Niamh Hourigan, Labour candidate in Ireland South, has said that casting a vote for Fine Gael in the European elections would mean endorsing Ms von der Leyen’s “military-driven and insular approach to Europe”.

Ireland’s military neutrality has also factored into discussions on the EU’s common security and defence policy, as the Irish Government moves to loosen rules governing overseas deployment of troops.

Migration has come into focus at local, national and European level as Ireland continues to fail to provide accommodation for all asylum seekers.

European and local elections
An election warehouse manager among ballot boxes in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

The European Parliament recently voted to approve the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum which includes controversial measures: facial images and fingerprints could be taken from children from the age of six, and people may be detained during screening.

It also includes measures on faster decision-making and the sharing of responsibility across member states, which could lead to relocation of international protection applicants or the payment of financial contributions to the EU.

Elsewhere, the EPP has put forward proposals for asylum seekers to be processed in so-called third countries outside the Union area.

Another important issue is agriculture, where tensions have arisen over an EU-imposed limit on how much manure nitrogen Irish farmers can use over water quality concerns, as well as debates over the size of the national herd and the rewetting of land under EU nature restoration laws.

–  South

Four of the five incumbents are running for re-election in the diverse constituency which includes vast expanses of rural areas as well as the cities of Limerick and Cork.

Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune is not seeking to return to Strasbourg, and the party is running John Mullins in an attempt to hold on to its two seats, with the other held by Sean Kelly MEP.

The other sitting MEPs are independent candidate Mick Wallace and Fianna Fail representative Billy Kelleher, as well as former Rainbow Warrior activist Grace O’Sullivan, for the Green Party.

European Parliament election
Grace O’Sullivan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mr Wallace has been criticised by competitors over allegations of pro-Russia and pro-China stances.

Sinn Fein is running two candidates, including the party’s children’s spokeswoman Kathleen Funchion.

The ballot paper also includes a large number of independents with different political leanings, several of whom have been described as anti-immigrant.

– Midlands-North-West

Because of a rising population in Ireland, Midlands-North-West’s boundaries have been expanded and its voters will elect one more MEP compared with 2019.

The current four MEPs are popular independent Luke “Ming” Flanagan, Fine Gael’s Colm Markey and Maria Walsh, and Sinn Fein’s Chris MacManus.

Mr McManus and Mr Markey were co-opted to their seats when Matt Carthy became a TD and when Mairead McGuinness became a European Commissioner.

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan
Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Most of the incumbents are seeking re-election in the huge constituency which spans 15 counties.

However, Mr Markey was withdrawn and Fine Gael has selected Irish Grand National-winning jockey Nina Carberry in his stead.

She will compete among the 27 total runners and riders in the contest, including unsuccessful presidential election candidate and entrepreneur Peter Casey and former RTE correspondent Ciaran Mullooly.

Nina Carberry
Fine Gael European election candidate Nina Carberry (Brian Lawless/PA)

Elsewhere, the Fianna Fail campaign has been marred by infighting, as border-region hopeful Niall Blaney accused the party leadership of throwing him and Mayo representative Lisa Chambers “overboard” in favour of Barry Cowen, who brings strong name recognition to the table.

– Dublin

By far the smallest of the three constituencies, 23 candidates are fighting it out across the county which contains the Irish capital.

While Fine Gael rep Frances Fitzgerald has decided to bow out from Europe, the other three incumbents are seeking re-election.

They are Ciaran Cuffe, who was elected as part of the so-called Green wave across Europe, independent socialist Clare Daly, and Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews, who was last of the group to head to the Parliament as part an extra seat awarded to Ireland after Brexit.

Clare Daly and Mick Wallace
Clare Daly and Mick Wallace (Brian Lawless/PA)

The MEPs have denounced what they see as increased militarisation of the bloc, while their opponents have accused them of being anti-EU.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein senator Lynn Boylan is vying to return to Europe after losing her job as an MEP in the 2019 elections.

Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain, People Before Profit’s Brid Smith and Social Democrats’ hopeful Sinead Gibney are competing for seats.

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