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What are the rules on dress codes and banners in the European Parliament?

Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace both wore ‘Free Assange’ t-shirts today, so is this allowed?

TODAY WAS THE first day on the job for many new MEPs as the newly elected 751-member European Parliament met for the first time.

The meeting in Strasbourg was a turbulent affair with the Brexit Party’s MEPs making quite the splash by turning their backs during the European anthem.

We also saw a number of MEPs making the views clear with a variety of displays. 

Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace wore blue and pink t-shirts with an image of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the message “Free Assange, no US extradition” printed on them. 

Daly also had a poster reading: “Since 2015, over 10,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean.”

British Liberal Democrat Martin Horwood also wore a yellow ‘Stop Brexit’ t-shirt.

France EU Parliament British Liberal Democrat Martin Horwood. Source: PA Images

Sartorial choices with a political edge aren’t exactly uncommon in the European Parliament, especially when all the cameras are in for the first day. But are there any rules over what is and isn’t allowed? 

We’ve had controversy in Ireland before about TDs wearing slogans in the Dáil too, so are things different here?

First to the European Parliament, where there is no dress code for MEPs. 

We can get some guidance on this from Rule 10 ‘Standards of Conduct’ in the parliament’s Rules of Procedure.

In this section, there are no rules regarding dress code or messages emblazoned on clothing. 

Perhaps the closest to this is in section Rule 10.3 which states: “Members shall not disrupt the good order of the Chamber and shall refrain from improper behaviour. They shall not display banners.”

That last condition could potentially outlaw Daly’s poster display but there is unlikely to be any repercussions as displays of posters do have somewhat of a history in the chamber. 

One memorable example was in 2017 when Labour’s Seb Dance held up a banner with an arrow pointing to fell MEP Nigel Farage and the words: “He’s lying to you.”

Perhaps even more infamously, Ian Paisley was thrown out of the European Parliament for heckling the Pope John Paul II in 1988. On that occasion, Paisley held up a poster reading: “John Paul II antichrist.” 

It was his interruption of the “good order” of the chamber rather than the poster that caused his disciplining, however.  

In the Dáil, one of the most recent and high-profile examples of a similar incident was again on the first day of term in September 2016 when six TDs from the AAA-PBP wore ‘Repeal’ sweatshirts.

On that occasion, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said that it wasn’t forbidden per se, but that “party political” emblems shouldn’t be shown.

The Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann, which set down how the chamber operates, do not make specific reference to what deputies should wear but there have been various suggestions of a dress code throughout the years.  

In May 2015, Mary Lou McDonald was asked to remove a Tá badge she was wearing in the Dáil a fortnight ahead of the marriage equality referendum. 

“Members, staff and visitors continue to cooperate on the longstanding protocol around emblems of a party political nature in the precincts of Leinster House,” an Oireachtas spokesperson told TheJournal.ie at the time

In 2017, Mattie McGrath TD was also asked to remove a Daffodil Day pin

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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