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'I rely on guys with vans and ladders': Marian Harkin on running as an Independent

The two-time MEP said Ireland “can’t keep relying on” foreign direct investment and must do more to support SMEs and farmers.
Mar 23rd 2014, 10:30 AM 8,861 31

(Video: TheJournal.ie/YouTube)

INDEPENDENT MEP CANDIDATE Marian Harkin readily admits that she is daunted by the “huge” size of the new ‘Midlands North-West’ constituency.

“The truth is, I could spend from now until the 23 May in Kildare and I wouldn’t even cover it … Now nearly no matter what way I leave Dublin, except south, I’ll be in my constituency,” Harkin said.

Currently a sitting MEP in ‘Ireland North-West’, if re-elected the Sligo-born former TD will take on five new counties and 550,000 more constituents.

“I don’t allow myself to think about the whole constituency in one go, because if I do I just realise it becomes impossible,” Harkin said.

Whenever she’s not in Brussels, Harkin will be canvassing to increase her “visibility” in the vastly expanded constituency. She said that losing out to Dana in the 1999 European elections taught her a valuable lesson: “If people don’t know you, there’s no chance of them voting for you.”

This time out Harkin will face competition from fellow sitting MEPs Jim Higgins and Mairead McGuinness (both Fine Gael), Labour’s Lorraine Higgins, sitting MEP Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher and Thomas Byrne (both Fianna Fáil), Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy and Mark Dearey of the Greens.

Too many Independents?

In terms of Independents, she will be pitted against Senator Rónán Mullen, Mark Fitzsimons and, as of Friday, TD Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

The mother-of-two said that there is a danger of vote dilution due to the fact so many high-profile Independents are running in western counties.

“You have three high-profile independents running in Sligo, Roscommon and Galway (herself, Flanagan and Mullen) and you have the whole east and only two candidates: Thomas Byrne and Mairéad McGuinness – I mean, they literally have it to themselves,” she stated.

Harkin, who is part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), has won consecutive MEP of the Year awards – for her contribution to the European Year of Volunteering in 2011 and her work on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in 2012.

She said she will continue to work on the committee if re-elected, adding that social indicators such as homelessness and child poverty should have the “same weight” as economic issues in terms of European policy making. “I know that’s not headline stuff and that’s not sexy stuff,” she added.

Trade Agreements

Harkin said that Ireland “can’t keep relying on” foreign direct investment and must work to protect sectors like the agri-food industry as it “will always be a driver of our economy”. In this regard, she is concerned about pending trade agreements between Europe and the US and South America. “The real fear is that they will allow significant amounts of high quality beef into the European Union without tariff,” she noted.

As Vice President of the Disabilty Intergroup, Harkin has been working with the Disability Federation of Ireland to make public websites more accessible. She is also among those calling for the introduction of a European disability card that would enable people with disabilities to enjoy the same rights they have in their country of residence, in terms of parking and access to buildings, in all member states.

Harkin said that she will spend between €70,000 and €90,000 of her own money on the campaign.

Marian Harkin on…

On being an Independent:

I don’t fundraise so I just use my own money. I have no resources available … At least if you’re in a party, they’ll put up more posters .. I rely on guys with vans and ladders, literally. I’m not without assets, I have a lot of people who will do everything possible to get me re-elected. It’s all voluntary. I don’t pay anybody to do anything … if a crowd were out canvassing, I might buy them their dinner in the evening.”

On the Youth Guarantee Scheme:

[It] is not sufficient, but it’s better than nothing, but not much more could I say for it. We don’t have enough money, but then the problem is if we put more money in to the Youth Guarantee, where do we take it from? … It is just a small step. In order to deal with the issue of unemployment, we’ve got to look at who creates employment. There are only two ways we create employment – either the state creates jobs themselves, or entrepreneurs do.”

On SMEs:

Small businesses in Ireland pay two per cent extra to borrow money more than they do in Germany so how in God’s name can we become competitive? Last week in the Parliament I said to Olli Rehn until we begin to pay as much attention to surpluses as we do to deficits, this problem isn’t going to sort itself out … The only way that we can become more competitive is to drive down prices and to drive down wages and, I mean, you can’t keep doing that – that’s a downward spiral.”

On “time-limited” gender quotas:

I’m strongly supportive of them. We don’t have a balance – it’s not that women make better decisions than men, they don’t, but they often make different ones … I hear women saying ‘Oh, that means you were chosen because you were a women – for God’s sake, people are chosen for lots of reasons, because they’re somebody’s son, or somebody’s nephew, or because they have a particular name … We have this impression that everybody’s chosen on merit, my foot – they are not! Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not.”

On life as an MEP:

“You couldn’t work at this pace all your life, but I can do it now because I have the time and I have the flexibility. I couldn’t have done this when I had younger children … Do I long to sit down and read a book? Yes and no. I really do enjoy what I do, I get a lot of satisfaction out of it.”

On her musical party piece (she’s also a singer):

“It depends, if I was in the west I might sing The West’s Awake but that can no longer be my party piece now because I’m up in Kildare and Meath and places like that … I think Crazy by Patsy Kline, that’s universal.”

At the end of the interview Harkin was given TheJournal.ies EU politics quiz — four questions on the history and workings of the European institutions. As a sitting MEP, she’s sure to pass with flying colours…

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

I hope it’s 751. [It is]

When did Ireland join the EEC?

1973. [Correct]

And what was the last country to join the Eurozone?
Was that Latvia? [It was]

Who is the President of the European Council?
Rompuy. [Correct - Herman Van Rompuy, to be exact]

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

Read: These are Fine Gael’s two European election candidates for Midlands-North-West

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

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Órla Ryan

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