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Brexit, tax, immigration and kissing: It all went down in RTÉ's Midlands North-West debate

Prime Time’s David McCullagh had his hands full.

There were eight candidates in the RTÉ studios this evening.
There were eight candidates in the RTÉ studios this evening.
Image: RTÉ Player

THE THIRD AND final RTÉ European elections debate took place last night.

Tonight was the turn of the Midlands North-West constituency and there were combative exchanges on Brexit, tax and immigration.

In a day when British Prime Minister Theresa May launched a hail mary to get her Brexit deal over the line, the eight candidates were quizzed on the British withdrawal.

Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was up first and found himself in the rather difficult position of having to admit that he was wrong to advocate for Brexit in the first place.

The sitting MEP said that he had hoped it would have given “a jolt” those seeking “full fiscal union” and “full military union” in the EU.

It hadn’t and he was wrong, he admitted, after being asked by Prime Time host David McCullagh.

Another candidate who has been accused of advocating for Brexit is Peter Casey.

On Brexit, McCullagh put it to Casey that there were many views on Brexit and that he was “in the happy position of having at one point or another held all of them”.

It raised a brief laugh from Casey before he retorted with a reply that didn’t at all suggest any fence-sitting:

“My position is that Ireland has got to do what’s best for Ireland.”

Casey was then pushed again on past suggestions that Ireland should follow Britain out of the EU.

“We should get whatever deal Britain gets, that’s the deal we need to get,” he clarified.

Cyril Brennan of People Before Profit was also asked about Brexit.

He said he would stand alongside people undertaking civil disobedience to stop a border but denied this means dismantling border infrastructure.

Instead, he compared it to how protesters opposed water charges and the Eighth Amendment.

As the debate moved on to more general matters of European interest, Fine Gael’s Máiread McGuinness took issue with being asked about the government’s challenge to the European Commission’s decision on Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland.

It was put to her that her party claims to be for the European project but then challenges the European Commission when it wants Ireland to get €13 billion in back taxes from Apple.

McGuinness said the State simply has a different view to the European Commission and that this was being challenged in the courts.

Fianna Fáil’s Brendan Smith defended the tax policies of past governments in relation to Apple. He said that the tax structures put in place for Apple were also available “to any other company”.

“Ireland is not a tax haven,” he repeated a number of times.

Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy was having none of that though. “When it comes to being a tax haven it doesn’t really matter what you think of yourself,” he said.

“It’s like being an early riser or a good kisser, it’s what other people think is important.”

Five years?

The Sinn Féin MEP was less assured when asked later about whether he would serve a full term if re-elected to the European Parliament.

Carthy was selected to run in Cavan-Monaghan in the next general election and said that while that selection does not stand anymore, he would not rule it out.

“The truth of the matter is, I don’t know where I’ll be for the next five years.”

“It may happen.’

After the break, the debate turned to immigration with Casey being at the centre of most of the sharp exchanges. 

The former presidential candidate made number of rather dubious claims and at one point referred to “welfare tourists”.

Casey tried to speak over The Green Party’s Saoirse McHugh who responded by staying: ”Millionaires scapegoating migrants is an old trope and it’s boring.”

Labour’s Dominic Hannigan also criticised a narrative that seeks to demonise immigrants and argued that Ireland should welcome more into the country.

“We need to make sure that they are welcome and that their contribution is valued,” he said, adding that problems with housing are down to “successive governments” and not immigrants. 

The other candidates running in the Midlands North-West constituency are: Maria Walsh, Anne Rabbitte, Patrick Greene, Fidelma Healy Eames, Olive O’Connor, James Miller, Diarmaid Mulcahy, Michael O’Dowd and Dilip Mahapatra. 

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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