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'People move on': Aodhán Ó Ríordáin on Labour gaining first seat in EU after 10 years

Ó Ríordáin told The Journal he plans to protect employment rights, push back against the far right and continue carrying the green torch in the European Parliament.

NEWLY-ELECTED DUBLIN MEP Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he thinks the public does not consider the Labour party’s time in Government anymore and instead judged him and other candidates based on their political convictions.

Speaking to The Journal after his first week in Brussels, Ó Ríordáin said that he plans to stand up for and protect employment rights, continue carrying the green torch in the European Parliament, and oppose Ursula von der Leyen’s second term.

The long-time politician is the first Labour MEP to be elected in 10 years and the only Irish member of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group in the EU this term – a group which will be influential decision makers over the coming five years.

Many experts have previously told The Journal that Ireland’s mandate in the EU was underperforming due to an absence of members in the S&D group.

Asked what he makes of the new Labour seat, Ó Ríordáin said he has had a warm welcome from his European colleagues. He said he believes that the public generally related to him for his political beliefs, rather than what Labour did in previous Governments.

european-labour-candidate-aodhan-o-riordain-td-following-being-elected-mep-for-the-dublin-constituency-at-the-rds-count-centre-in-dublin-as-counting-continues-in-the-european-election-in-ireland-pict Labour's director of elections and Senator Marie Sherlock, Ó Ríordáin and party leader Ivana Bacik after the election in Dublin this month. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“The only time I get asked about [Labour's] period in Government is when I’m being interviewed by journalists.

“I literally did not get asked about it going door-to-door, not once, and it’s because people move on and they want to know what your plans are now and in the future.”

He said that it was a “major breakthrough” for Labour to gain a seat in Europe again, but noted that it will be a big change to leave his “relatively small parliamentary party” in Leinster House to join the second-largest group in the European Union.

Despite this, he wants to be “true to the mandate” and bring European affairs closer to people’s lives, communities and the overall political consciousness in Dublin and the rest of Ireland.

Empowering workers’ right

How does the Dublin native plan to do this? Through a seat on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee or the Culture and Education committee, the two political work groups he has applied for.

As previously reported by The Journal, Ó Ríordáin is seeking to advocate for wage increases for workers, ban unpaid internships and work towards an EU-wide right to disconnect.

He sees the EU as a way to improve life for workers in Ireland through legislation such as the minimum income directive that puts a great importance on collective bargaining and unionising. 

According to 2021 OECD analysis into pay in Ireland, around 23% of Ireland’s full-time workforce is on what is categorised as low pay, earning less than two-thirds of median earnings.

Ó Ríordáin cited the study and added that around 40% of people under 30 are currently working insecure jobs.

Labour 292_90670605 Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is hoping to earn a seat on the Parliament's employment committee. © ©

“While we do have full employment, the nature of that employment really needs to be examined more,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to bring to the table over the next five years.”

While this work is still subject to his selection on the Employment committee – political groups are given a certain number of committee seats, proportional to the seats they hold in the chamber – Ó Ríordáin is still eager to highlight these issues. 

He also brought up how Ireland currently employs just 32% of people with disabilities, which is well below the current EU average (51%), and how there is a “lot of work to do” to improve those figures.

He added that free labour, through internships or ‘experience work’, needs to be “rooted out” and believes that, regardless of whether he gets a position on the committee, the S&D group will be tackling these issues in the coming years. 

“I would hope over the next five years with the amount of that knowledge that I have, and with the experience of other S&D group members, that I will be in a position to to campaign and hopefully convince ministers here in the Irish government of the need to strengthen our collective bargaining legislation,” Ó Ríordáin said.

“I think what needs to happen is that employers need to understand that it’s better for everybody.

“When employees and their representatives are asked to the table and are working collectively, working together, they are more protected in the workplace. It means that workers feel more secure and they feel more empowered, they’re more productive. It’s a win-win.”

Anti-Green MEPs are looking for ‘short-term political gain’

Former Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe had tapped Ó Ríordáin as the next MEP to tackle climate change for Ireland in Europe, after he lost his seat in Dublin.

Ó Ríordáin told The Journal that he is still in touch with Cuffe and hopes that he can work with the former MEP and gain from his experience and knowledge of the EU, but also to learn more about the climate crisis.

“I am genuinely terrified of the consequences of lack of action in this space.

“I have young children. I think you don’t need to have children to be worried, but I do and I am – I also know from the the nature of the European election just how unfortunately divisive this issue has become,” he added.

Ó Ríordáin said that he thought Regina Doherty’s comments about the Green Party and other green issues in a newspaper article towards the end of the campaign were “really unfortunate and pretty unfair”.

999European Elections_90707154 (1) Ó Ríordáin said he is still in touch with Cuffe and hopes to look to him for guidance and experience during his term on climate issues. © ©

He added: “A kind of a cultural war has sprung open in various different communities about the infrastructure [and] about cycle lanes.

“We’ve seen what independents are doing with the people in rural Ireland about the green agenda and just for short-term political gain.

“We’ve seen the success of people who are, if you like, openly critical of this agenda – the likes of Ciaran Mullooly or others.

“They may challenge what I just said, but clearly they’re courting a vote of people who are not necessarily full on board with the climate action agenda and seek to delay things. And I have an issue with that.”

He added that he hopes that all four MEPs from Dublin, at least, can work together towards making progress for the Green Deal and says it is something that he is taking seriously.

‘S&D will vote for von der Leyen, but I won’t’

Speaking on Monday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin told reporters in Luxembourg that a “high-level agreement” had been brokered between Fianna Fáil’s centrist group Renew, the S&D and Fine Gael’s EPP to support Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as European Commission president.

Asked if this agreement undermines Ó Ríordáin’s convictions-over-policy stance, he confirmed that his group will be supporting the German politician’s term – but he has informed the group that he will not be personally supporting her.

“I made this point in our group meeting last week, and I actually got a round of applause for it – now, how widespread that round of applause was, it’s hard to know – but I said the issue of Gaza is of a profound importance to the Irish people and on that basis, I have a massive issue with supporting Ursula von der Leyen. I won’t be voting for her, no.”

The Dublin MEP said the group is choosing to support von der Leyen in her second term to avoid the Commission President seeking support from the far-right.

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