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Labour European elections candidate: 'The EU isn't a retirement ground'

Lorraine Higgins is running in the Midlands North-West elections for the EU Parliament.

LORRAINE HIGGINS KNOWS that some people see the EU Parliament as a ‘retirement ground’; a place for politicians to go when they’re not that useful.

But she’s young, and determined, and wants to show that there really is a point to being an MEP – and that the position does hold power.

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Pic: Lorraine Higgins

TheJournal.ie sat down with the Galwegian former barrister, current Senator and Labour candidate for the Midlands North-West (a new four-seat constituency) about her priorities during the campaign.

If elected, she would be representing a slew of counties that include many large rural areas and towns or various sizes. She wants to be a voice for those towns, she said, and deal with the issues that affect them.

“I feel that we need some young representatives,” she said of the EU. She wants to show that the parliament is “a force for good”.

While canvassing, she’s found that people have been bringing up local issues – the ‘three Ps’, potholes, playgrounds and parking.

She wants to focus part of her campaign on “making recovery real”, and is planning a roadshow with local success stories.

Gender balance

Growing up, Higgins was inspired by females in politics, and feels she is “no lesser” than her male counterparts. But she’s aware that not having children has afforded her the time to be able to travel around the midlands and north-west canvassing.

“If I had a child I would find it very hard to leave them,” she admits, before reeling off the names of the various places she’s going to visit that very day.

“We need to encourage more women into politics in order to change the system,” she asserted.

She thinks there is a room in politics for balancing family life and work duties: “I don’t see why balance should be put out the window.”

Youth

There’s a bit of a mentality that still exists among some of the political parties, that ‘here’s a happy retirement ground for you, off you to go to Brussels’.

Higgins wants that attitude changed, saying it’s up to young representatives like her to make that change, and represent the views from people in their 20s and 30s and 40s.

She sees a big gap in terms of people her age knowing about the European Union, and again she wants that to change.

“It’s only by having representatives of your own age group that you might sit up and take notice,” she said.

Issues

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Pic: Lorraine Higgins

She is aware of the ‘bogs issue’, which emerged due to the bringing in of an EU habitat directive. “While I respect areas of conservation, I think the government could have been more delicate in the way it dealt with it,” she said, suggesting that compensation should have been on a “sliding scale”.

Interestingly, she says the issue of water charges hasn’t come up while she has been canvassing.

But I think people in Ireland in any case aren’t fundamentally against water charges because they realise the importance of clean water to the country, clean water in terms of bringing factories in here so we can create jobs and make sure that the environment is protected. There’s a reasonable attitude towards water charges for that reason.

Ideally, she would like a facility where large families wouldn’t be impacted by water charges. “Or people who might have special medical needs that there might be some provision for them, so we are protecting the most vulnerable.”

The Labour Party

The Labour Party has had its tough times over the past year, and chief among the surprise moments was when Colm Keaveney left for Fianna Fáil. What does this say about the strength of the coalition partner right now?

“Colm is Colm, and he makes the decision,” said Higgins. “I made my decision to join the Labour party and I was very happy to fulfill that mandate and I am very proud to be a member of the Labour Party.”

Obviously Colm had issues at some point in time with the Labour party. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech. He’s made the decision to join that party that caused all the financial distress in this country rather than staying with the party who are trying to clean up the mess.

Thoughts on the Seanad

The Seanad has its detractors, and Higgins is aware of that. “I have reservations about the Seanad as well,” she admitted.

In particular I’d have reservations about how Senators are elected to the Seanad. But I  know we’ve got Constitutional constraints that we can’t open it up more widely at the minute anyway and the people have voted to keep it the way it is so we have to respect their views.

She would like to see its powers varied and widened. On the issue of directives, she wants more debate on these in the Seanad.

The hope is that bringing European issues into the Seanad chamber to be debated “will help in informing people as well in this country as to the impact of European legislation, and there might be more commentary the as a result”.

We’re too quick to rush and implement every directive without proper debate on them.
We just let the legislation come from Europe or the directives, and let it have direct effect without any debate, or without any input from those groups that are out there like hoteliers and restauranteurs like the people who occupy bogs.
We’re too dictatorial and I think it needs to change and I think the Seanad has a role to play in that.

If she is elected, she proposes to call a conference of MEPs “to inform them exactly what Ireland has gone through, the cuts that we’ve taken in our service and in our salaries, to try and get our country back on track”.

To try and elicit support from those members of the EU parliament to fight of Ireland’s cause. That’s why I say building relationships are so important. That’s why I say it’s important who we put in Europe, rather than people who want to sit on the fringes and be Eurosceptics or anti the European project.

The EU pop quiz

We give an EU pop quiz to all of the candidates we interview. Here’s how Lorraine Higgins got on:

What as the last country to join the EU? Croatia.

How many seats will the EU have after the elections? 776

(After a small hint)

What is it again… it’s 751

What year did Ireland officially join? 1973

Read: Dublin Councillor calls for 50% of seats to go to women in local elections?>

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