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Barry Andrews Today's Electoral Commission announcement was an own goal

The Dublin MEP says the Commission’s advice that Ireland’s extra MEP seat should be in Midlands-NW constituency is not helpful.

THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION missed an opportunity to deliver a more imaginative response to the problem of widespread ignorance of politics in Europe.

As I have said before, while 70% of laws originate in the EU, 90% of the drama comes from the Dáil. Voters know their TDs well and feel close to them. Some argue that our deputies are too close to voters and that TDs have insufficient regard for what should be national strategic priorities.

Having only three sprawling Euro constituencies erects barriers; barriers that could easily be addressed by having four constituencies, as was the case up to 2014. The proposal from the Electoral Commission was to add an extra seat to Midlands North-West, transferring Laois and Offaly into the new 5-seater. This was the easiest thing to do but, not by a long way, the best thing to do.

It makes no sense politically, economically or geographically.

Why?

First, the political problem. While Irish people are extremely well-disposed to membership of the EU, there is a yawning gap in knowledge or connection with their European Parliament representatives. It doesn’t help that we do our work in Brussels and Strasbourg.

2024 is the biggest election year in history, with more than 4 billion citizens heading to the polls globally. This is both a huge opportunity and a huge risk for key public policy issues, especially our climate efforts.

The European Parliament 2024 elections could spell trouble for progressive politics. The same is true of elections in the US and elsewhere.

Coupled with high abstention rates, there is now a real risk of the European Green Deal unravelling and years of effort to decarbonise our economies being undone.

Secondly, geography students will be scratching their heads to find that County Louth is still in Midlands North-West, given that the wee county markets itself as part of Ireland’s Ancient East.

Similarly, the inhabitants of Valentia Island will be surprised to know that they are sharing a constituency with the citizens of Bray while Celbridge is in the same constituency as Achill. For MEPs, it is impossible to keep in touch with constituents in this scenario.

Thirdly, and most significantly from a Dublin point of view, the constituency layout makes no attempt to contribute to economic coherence or balanced regional development. Setting sporting rivalries to one side for a moment, Dublin and surrounding counties (Meath, Wicklow, Kildare and Louth) are now experiencing many of the same issues, be that transport, policing, housing or otherwise. If a five-seater is justified anywhere, it would be this area or at least some part of it.

Getting it right

EU funding for transport, energy and housing projects is directed not at counties (of which there are four in Dublin alone) but at regions. The Constituencies Commission clearly exercised a very limited imaginative capacity in this regard.

Ireland does not compete well at the EU level for this type of grant funding. Neither do we perform well at anticipating the possible regional implications of new EU laws. What will the new law on fuel for Heavy Vehicles mean for companies operating in the Greater Dublin area? What will be the implications for the capital city and its surroundings on new economic governance proposals, particularly as regards state aid?

Constituencies that align with issues would be more impactful. MEPs with clear regional mandates are good for democracy.

As it stands, MEPs are more adrift from their constituents than ever. Coverage of events in the European Parliament is abysmal. RTE’s European Parliament Report goes out at ungodly hours, and I wonder if even the MEPs watch it. This is no reflection on the journalists who put the programme together but on the editorial decision on scheduling.

As a candidate in 2019, I was struck by the shrinking space for electioneering – limitations on postering (tidy towns), on canvassing (no supermarkets), on delivery of leaflets (no junk mail). There are also companies that deny employees the right to canvass or even run for election, considering it incompatible with the strategy of the business.

Foreign interference in our democratic processes is well documented. By contrast, the announcement of the Electoral Commission was an own goal.

Barry Andrews is MEP for Dublin.

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