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'I just play my own game': Jim Higgins not worried about his re-election battle

The Fine Gael MEP thinks he and colleague Mairéad McGuinness could take two seats in ‘Midlands North-West’ but admits “it’s a big ask”.

Jim Higgins (File photo)
Jim Higgins (File photo)

SITTING MEP JIM Higgins is not worried about any of his competitors in the ‘Midlands North-West’ constituency.

“I don’t worry about others, I do my own campaign … I just play my own game,” the veteran Fine Gael MEP said.

“Put the best foot forward, put your mantra out there. I’m not into negative campaigning, even when Fine Gael were in opposition I didn’t engage in negative campaigning … Don’t get personal with people,” he advised.

One person he has repeatedly refused to ‘get personal’ with is Mayo TD John O’Mahony. Last year there were reports that Fine Gael headquarters was pressuring Higgins to step aside so that O’Mahony could take his place on the ticket.

The former TD and Senator said that there was “absolutely no truth” in the rumour he was asked to step aside, adding that the claim appeared during “silly season” when the Dáil was adjourned for the summer.

‘Mock exam’

The Mayo-native was campaigning in Kildare recently and said he was “very heartened” by the repsonse.

“It was like doing a mock exam and the results of the exam were quite good,” he added.

Higgins, who has served as an MEP since 2004, noted that many people from the west now live in the Dublin commuter belt and that his election campaign will “try to harness the good will of people who were born in the west but not given a livelihood there”.

Given his commitments in Brussels and Strasbourg, Higgins said that his canvassing will be “essentially a weekend campaign”.

Earlier this month, he was named ‘Transport MEP of the Year’. “Why did I win? I worked hard, I rolled up the sleeves and went to every meeting,” he said.

The Higgins Report on e-tolling was backed by 516 votes to 111 in the European Parliament last June. As a result, all European roads will have barrier-free tolling by 2016.

European interest

Higgins said that since reform of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies was finalised and people were “relatively happy” with the results, “very little of European interest comes up on the doorstep”.

“Europe owes us nothing and at the same time Irish farmers are going to get €12.5 billion between 2014 and 2020,” he said, adding:  ”There’s not the level of interest in the European project that there should be.”

He noted that it was necessary to hold the European election on the same day as the local election to ensure people vote.

“I just fear that if you have the European election as a stand-alone event, the turn out would not be very high … that’s frightening,” he said.

Jim Higgins on…

On the expanded ‘Midlands North-West’ constituency:

“Daunting is an understatement … [It will be] very difficult to cover the territory in a nine-week campaign … It’s a mammoth task.”

On Fine Gael’s popularity:

“I take great comfort from the results of the Meath by-election*, I know there was a sympathy factor for the McEntee family … From day one, I believed that Fine Gael would win. We got 38 per cent of the vote. You could describe 10 per cent of that as being a sympathy vote, but the other 28 percent is what Fine Gael have been polling consistently.”

*Helen McEntee won the Meath by-election on 27 March 2013 after the seat became vacant following the death of her father, Shane.

On fellow Fine Gael MEP candidate Mairéad McGuinness:

“We’re colleagues and competitors … on a good day we could take the two seats but it’s a big ask.”

On suicide:

“We have the fourth highest [suicide] rate within the EU, it’s just absolutely frightening. What we need is positive mental health but there’s still a reluctance to seek help. There needs to be a national campaign to get people talking. I’m urging the Minister for Health James Reilly and Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch to introduce first-aid mental health classes – based on the Scottish and Welsh models.”

On cross-boarder traffic offences:

“There is a tendency on the part of Northern Ireland drivers to use the roads in the south as their playground and they do so with impunity… if a penalty is handed down in the south of Ireland it should also hold in the north.”

On the need for a central EU sex offenders register:

“We’re in Europe and that has the four freedoms, one of which is freedom of movement. Sex offenders can move from one jurisidcistion to another, [the system would ensure] they can be identified as to where they are. Re-offending is the norm, unfortunately.”

On Crimea:

“I think we’ve been found out. Despite all the rhetoric all we’ve been able to do is impose sanctions … We’re not a member of NATO, but we need to do an assessment in relation to NATO. Putin pulled a fast one, it looked like game set and match … the big fear is that he will pick off more Russian-speaking areas in Ukraine.”

At the end of the interview Higgins was given TheJournal.ie‘s EU politics quiz — four questions on the history and workings of the European institutions. So how did he do?

How many seats will there be in the Parliament after the election?

751. [Correct]

What was the last country to join the Eurozone?

Let me think … ask another question.

Who is the President of the European Commission?

José Manuel Barroso. [Correct]

How many countries are in the eurozone?

17, as far as I know … [It's 18] Yes, 18 after the last one.

And what was the last country to join the Eurozone?

Eh … Latvia. [Correct]

Related: ‘I rely on guys with vans and ladders’: Marian Harkin on running as an Independent

Read: It’s official: Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is running for Europe

Read: Another senator is running for Europe in Ireland’s biggest constituency

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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