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Running 3 FG candidates may have been a mistake, but the campaign's on now --- Seán Kelly

“The decision was made a number of months ago. Whether I agreed or disagreed with it, it’s over and done with…”

[Dave Nowak Photography]

FORMER GAA PRESIDENT Seán Kelly looks on target to retain his seat in Europe, just over two weeks out from the 23 May polling day.

At times, over the current campaign — he hasn’t been quite as on-target as he’d like, however: a poll last month put him down the list of top preferences, behind Sinn Fein newcomer Liadh Ní Riada and tying with his party colleague Deirdre Clune on 12 per cent.

There’s been better news since then: last weekend, the 62-year-old was back up to 18 per cent — ahead of his Fine Gael colleagues, if still some way behind Fianna Fáil’s perennial poll-topper Brian Crowley.

Kelly was making no secret of his qualms about the party’s decision to run three candidates in the ten county Ireland South constituency, as he spoke to TheJournal.ie on a campaign stop at Hearns Hotel in Clonmel*.

“Many people within the party would wonder why we have two candidates in fifteen counties in the North West constituency and we’ve three candidates here,” Kelly says.

It makes it more difficult for canvassers. It makes it more difficult for council candidates — because they have to try and go out with three rather than two, but that decision was made.

“I’m not a strategist,” Kelly says — stressing that he’s determined to work as hard as he can to maximise the vote, given the current set up.

“The decision was made a number of months ago. Whether I agreed or disagreed with it, it’s over and done with.

The campaign is on… We have to try and maximise it now.

And in terms of the polls, “its inevitable if you have three candidates that your percentage of the vote is going to go down from the previous time — when you’d only two candidates and when you weren’t in power”.

Kelly’s been touting his work on CAP, his efforts on combating cyber-bullying, and his contributions to the EU Parliament’s Industry and Research Committee to voters, as he heads into the final few weeks of the election campaign…

Kelly and his fellow FG candidates, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny [Sean Kelly Facebook] 

On feedback from voters…

The coalition’s been making some less-than-popular decisions recently (and taking its time to do so: the Irish Water debácle’s been on the front pages for weeks). On top of that, there have been the various controversies involving Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Are people that interested in the European elections, or is it being seen simply as a popularity contest for the Government?

Primarily, I’d say a popularity contest for the Government because immediacy seems to have a very strong bearing on people’s views at a particular time — so they’re conscious of what’s been happening over the last few weeks at national level.

“There would be quite a number of people who would know that Europe is very important for them in terms of legislation, but really what impacts on their lives is what they will be more anxious to talk about. A small minority would want to know what is happening in Europe and what you can do for them in Europe.

Kelly says the redrawing of the European constituencies “hasn’t helped the European project” and left many people “confused”.

TJ: So when you meet with people on the street in Clonmel — what are you telling about how you’ve been contributing, and how you can help?

“Well, obviously — answering their questions as best I can, I try and tell them that what we’re doing in Europe isn’t exactly what’s happening at national level.

That there’s only so much influence an MEP can have in decisions taken at national level, no matter who is in power.

“If you’re in Brussels four or five days a week, the Dáil is meeting in Dublin three or four days a week: obviously you’re not involved, so I try to explain to them that everybody has a different role.

“The local politicians deal with local matters — The national politicians national matters, and we at European level co-operate and co-ordinate our efforts as best we can.”

[Seán Kelly Facebook]

On getting along in Brussels…

TJ: In terms of the European set-up, surely any MEP elected in Ireland would have more in common with other Irish politicians, compared to, say, a member of the European People’s Party from Austria? In which areas do you find yourself working most closely with your colleagues from here?

“Probably the two most obvious ones would be agriculture and fisheries.

That’s what people would understand here more probably than anywhere else — that the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Agriculture Policy come from Europe.

“It’s very important to have people there who are aware and understand the problems and the challenges, and where we’re concerned — and I would have said this at some meetings — when necessary we would wear the green jersey in the interests of an industry which is so vital to us: like agriculture, and indeed fishing.”

However, Kelly insists, in Euro-politics terms — size matters: the fact that Fine Gael are part of the European People’s Party (the biggest group in the Parliament) gives Ireland more clout Brussels…

“The Taoiseach made this point the other day, and he is absolutely correct: if you want to influence things in Europe, you’ve got to elect people who are in the position to be part of groups that make a difference. The EPP is the biggest group, and I think that’s a point that we’re trying to get across.

“We’d be centre right, pro business, fairly practical — whereas other MEPs would not. Especially in relation to businesses, we would be very strong in trying to have practical applications to measures, rather than sometimes crazy idealistic notions.

For instance — in data protection, there was a proposal from the left in particular that every business that had two hundred and fifty clients should have a data protection officer.

“I mean that was crazy — that was a proposal. Now, it was through working within the EPP group and building a majority that I was able to change that to five thousand clients and to reduce the red tape.

“So the group you’re involved in is absolutely vital and also their attitude to Europe because those who don’t have a positive attitude to Europe, who want to get rid of the European Union, they’re not going to work on these things as well — and that’s something I think the message should be got across about.”

On cyber bullying…

The issue of cyber-bullying and social-media based peer pressure has rarely been out of the headlines here in recent years: most recently, concerns were raised over the ‘neknomination’ drinking craze. Kelly’s campaign video states that “as a parent and former teacher Seán led the fight in Europe to tackle the scourge of cyber-bullying”…

How?

Kelly says it was an issue he approached from a data protection point-of-view “and as I looked into it, it became more and more of a problem and there were less and less solutions”.

“So to do something about it — I thought it was important — I organised forums across the constituency and brought in different stakeholders who were dealing with it, and we invited teachers, parents, students, and there was a great reaction.

They said, ‘thankfully somebody was doing something about it’ — and that will feed hopefully into decisions made in due course, both at European and national level to deal with the problem.

TJ: “So this is an ongoing effort to deal with it? I mean, have you brought any concrete proposals to Europe to inform potential legislation on it?”

“Yeah, we’re drawing up proposals in terms of helping schools in particular and parents to create awareness, to know where help is available.

“We met some people who are developing apps to deal with it — we had them speaking at our conferences.

“We have made presentations to the Minister regarding it and we met the New Zealand Minister, who came to see me [...] because she saw that I was dealing with it: they’re criminalising some of the areas of cyber bullying and that’s something we have recommended that should happen here as well.”

Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

On sports funding…

Kelly’s campaign material also talks up his “central role in developing Europe’s first ever sports programme, worth €300 million”. That programme is part of the larger ‘Erasmus Plus‘ scheme, which has an overall budget of €14.7 and runs until 2020. Funding is being provided for a range of schools, colleges, businesses and not-for-profits as part of the programme…

The Fine Gael MEP says that after feedback and advice from a range of sports experts “I think now we have the nucleus of a very good sports programme”.

We’ve a budget for the first time ever — over three hundred million — and we have a target that by 2025, three out of five rather than two out of five [people] would be physically active.

“I will be particularly emphasising the health value of sport and physical activity, and I want to broaden it out from sport — because sometimes people think sport is playing games — but I want to put more emphasis on physical activity and the health benefits from it, and the social benefits.

TJ: “So it’s partly an education programme that’s being rolled out in schools?”

“That would be part of it —- but we’d also be tackling some of the major issues like drugs in sport: different types of sponsorship in sport, the role of agents in sport… Betting is a big issue as well… Match fixing — So those issues we’ll be looking at.

“[...] of course, where I’d be concerned, because I was President of the GAA, would be to try and highlight the value of indigenous sports — and we hope to have a festival in Barcelona sometime next year.”

[On the campaign trail in 2009: Photocall Ireland]

Finally — taking TheJournal.ie‘s EU quiz…

This website intends to interview every candidate running in the European elections, as part of out campaign coverage. As part of each encounter, we’re firing each one a series of quickfire questions on general EU political knowledge… Some have fared better than others

TJ: “When did the Euro come in?”

“The Euro came in in 2000.” (The banknotes and coins were introduced in 2002)

TJ: “Do you know the last country to join the Eurozone?”

“Latvia.” (Correct)

TJ: “Head of the EU Commission?”

“The President? … Barroso.” (Correct)

TJ: “How many seats are currently in the EU Parliament, and how many will there be after the election?”

“At the moment there are 766. Afterwards, 751.” (Correct)

TJ: “How many commissioners are there?”

“One for each country.”

TJ: “So?”

“So, 28.” (Correct)

*Note: This interview was carried out in Clonmel last Thursday, before the most recent opinion polls — and before Alan Shatter resigned

Read: ‘I’m doing this because I’m concerned and worried’: Anti-pylon candidate on why he’s not actually anti-pylons

Read: SF Ireland South candidate: “We have to put up with the fact that we’re part of Europe”

Read: Meet the former Rainbow Warrior hoping to help the Greens surf back to electoral success…

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