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FactCheck: Is Luke 'Ming' Flanagan right about other Irish MEPs' poor record of attendance?

The Independent MEP says he’s the only Irish member who regularly shows up for the Agriculture Committee. FactCheck puts that claim to the test.

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EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE meetings are rarely a source of controversy or political excitement, but widely shared comments by Independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan last week certainly fit that description.

On Thursday, he claimed on Facebook that he was the “only Irish MEP who regularly attends” meetings of the parliament’s Agriculture Committee.

Sinéad Halpin in Cork City asked us to look into it, after reading some good research on the claim by Today FM political correspondent Gavan Reilly.

(Remember if you see a politician making big claims on social media, email factcheck@thejournal.ie).

Claim: Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is the only Irish MEP who regularly attends Agriculture Committee meetings
Verdict: FALSE

  • According to the official record, Mairead McGuinness has a higher rate of attendance (88%) than Flanagan (78%), and has voted and spoken almost as often as he has
  • Even accounting for the possibility of signing in at meetings and then leaving, McGuinness made a substantive contribution (voted or made a speech) at 74.2% of all committee meetings.

What was said:

FlanaganFB Source: Luke 'Ming' Flanagan via Facebook

On Thursday, the Independent MEP posted a photo taken from inside the European Parliament’s Agriculture meeting, along with a lengthy post that began:

On Thursday morning I was at the Agriculture Committee. I never miss a meeting. Big deal. I get well paid for it. Too well. The question has to be asked. Why am I the only Irish MEP who regularly attends?

Facts

There are three Irish MEPs (that is, three MEPs from constituencies in the Republic of Ireland) on the Agriculture and Rural Development committee:

Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness (a Vice President of the parliament), Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy, and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

All three represent the Midlands-North West constituency.

We checked the minutes of the committee’s meetings during the lifetime of the current parliament, which was elected in 2014.

Here’s what we found:

mingclaims2014_2016

  • Carthy was recorded as present at 24/41 meetings (59%)
  • Flanagan was recorded as present at 32 (78%)
  • McGuinness was recorded as present at 36 (88%)

However, Flanagan has voted on every single occasion possible (19 out of 19), and spoken more often (61 times) than either McGuinness (48 times) or Carthy (20 times).

Let’s take a look at just the last year.

mingclaimsjune_june

As you can see, Flanagan does indeed have the best record for attendance (91%), and a far superior record for voting (100%) and speaking (33 times).

Quality over quantity?

In response to a query from FactCheck, Flanagan argued:

An MEP could in theory be present at all 24 different committee meetings by going from one to another and signing in. Thus appearing in the minutes. This doesn’t mean they actually stay at the meeting.

This is true. While the official record shows a higher rate of attendance by Mairead McGuinness, it is possible that on some occasions she signed in, stayed very briefly and then left the meetings.

Of course, it is also possible that Flanagan’s attendance record is based on doing the same thing, although he obviously states the opposite.

Decriminalising cannabis Source: PA WIRE

Each committee session is around two or three hours long, so to assess how long each Irish MEP stayed at each meeting would require watching around 100 hours of video.

Unfortunately, this is not a realistic possibility for the purposes of this FactCheck.

However, without having to watch the videos, we do know that:

  • Mairead McGuinness spoke or voted (or both) at 30 out of 41 meetings since the current parliament term began in 2014.
  • This is substantive attendance at 74.2% of the Agriculture committee meetings.
  • She was recorded as present-only at six further meetings

Using the same measures, Flanagan spoke or voted (or both) at 70.7% of meetings, although on several occasions he made multiple speeches within the same meeting.

Matt Carthy spoke or voted (or both) at just 43.9% of meetings.

Conclusion

3meps Source: European Parliament

It’s clear that Flanagan speaks more often at meetings than his compatriots, and has a 100% voting record.

And the fact that he has made 61 speeches at the 29 meetings where he spoke might suggest that he stays longer on average than McGuinness and Carthy.

However, the widely-shared claim he made on Facebook was not merely that his performance and engagement at the committee is better, or that he attends the meetings for longer.

It was that he is “the only Irish MEP who regularly attends” meetings of the Agriculture Committee.

Notwithstanding the possibility that Mairead McGuinness simply signed in and then left at the six meetings where she was recorded as present-only, she clearly not only attended, but also made a substantive contribution to almost three quarters of committee meetings, by voting or speaking, or both.

For this reason, we rate the claim FALSE.

You can download a spreadsheet containing all the relevant data and links for this FactCheck, here.

Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie.

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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