DEIDRE CLUNE HAS been a local councillor, the Lord Mayor of Cork, a TD, a Senator and now is looking to become an MEP for Ireland South.
The current Fine Gael Senator says she has “always been passionate about the European project” and now that her family are almost grown up she wants to take advantage of the opportunity to go to Brussels.
“I would like in this election to bring Europe back to people,” she said. ”I keep saying to people that it’s not Europe out there. It’s us. We are part of it.”
Clune was first elected to the Dáil in 1997 when she took the Cork City seat that was held for almost 30 years by her father, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry.
After failing to secure re-election or a Seanad seat in 2002, Clune was re-elected to the local council in 2004 before following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather by being elected as Lord Mayor of Cork.
Speaking about that position, Clune says she thinks it would benefit from emulating the proposals for Dublin and going down the directly-elected route:
I think it’s a good proposal and I’ve made that case previously. We’ll see how Dublin goes and we’ll ask the people, I’m looking forward to the plebiscite in Dublin. But I would like to see it with more powers and I would like to see a city and county council amalgamation in Cork.
Fine Gael’s European credentials were given significant coverage recently when the EPP conference was held in Dublin and big hitters from the worlds of politics and celebrity got media fingers tapping.
Clune attended the conference and she said it really gave a sense of “the connections that Fine Gael have in Europe”. She said it’s “always important” to be part of a strong grouping and hopes that the EPP will increase their share in the 23 May vote.
There were three arrests at protests outside the Convention Centre as the EPP gathered.
Clune accepts that European policy has been “dominated in the last four years by the economic crisis” but disagrees that EU structures are the problem.
“The European parliament is now stronger than it was five years ago following the Lisbon Treaty. The parliament is co-decision making in terms of legislation, it also has the power to say ‘yay or nay’ to a budget which is good.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Press Conference this month. (David Sleator/Photocall Ireland)
Clune also made reference to the words of the current European Commission President Jose Manuel Barrosso, who was recently presented with an honourary doctorate at University College Cork.
She said his words echoed the theme she wanted for her campaign:
He had the same kind of message about linking communities about letting people know that if you’re in Bantry or Brussels or Bruges that it’s all the same.
Asked about European membership, Clune agreed that Ireland has benefited socially and economically from membership but that Irish people, especially those in business have also been “given a confidence that we’re member of a bigger bloc”.
Clune says her own race will be an “unknown for the party because it’s such a big constituency” (Ireland South contains Munster along with Carlow, Kilkenny, Wicklow and Wexford), adding that it will be a “long count”.
It may be especially so for her, as she is up against two party colleagues in the four-seater – sitting MEP Seán Kelly and Simon Harris TD.
Clune accepts that it’ll be a tough race but isn’t giving up on Fine Gael taking three seats:
I wouldn’t rule it out certainly, we’ll see what the final line up is in terms of candidates. I’m fixed in Cork which is a very strong population base, it is the strongest population base in the constituency.
Seán Kelly has been an excellent MEP and I’ve no doubt that people will respond to him… I think my challenge will be to identify with the core Munster votes as well and and with the Fine Gael organisation and, like I said, Cork has a very strong population base there.
Clune might, perhaps, feel that the Fine Gael organisation owes her one. In the 2011 election Fine Gael tried to eke three seats out of the five in Cork South Central and Clune was the one squeezed out.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney took the third seat while Jerry Buttimer took the fourth.
“That was a vote management issue, I mean there was three of us in the constituency,” she said.
I’ve been a Fine Gael member all my whole life and I know you go into tight vote situations and you go in with a plan and it works sometimes and it doesn’t work some other times. I remember after that election I had an email from Garret Fitzgerald and he said to me that you were one of the rare victims of Fine Gael vote management strategy. So this time, I hope to be the beneficiary of it.
Clune was given TheJournal.ie‘s EU politics quiz before we finished up — questions of varying difficulty on the history and workings of the European institutions. Here’s how it went…
The number of seats in the European Parliament are decreasing. What’s the number going to be after the election?
751, it’s 766 at the moment and it will be down to 751. We’re losing one of course. [Correct, correct and correct]
When did Ireland join the EEC?
1973 [Spot on]
And what was the last country to join the EU?
The Eurozone? [Croatia was the last country to join the EU]
Eh, was it Latvia or Lithuania. I think Latvia. [ Yep, that's 4 out of 4!]