Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs

Developments at European Union Level: Commissioner Mairead McGuinness

Ms Mairead McGuinness:

I refer to an important question that I did not answer from Deputy Calleary about data centres and energy use. It is pointless for us to try to tackle emissions when on the other hand we have energy-intensive centres. We are looking at the sustainability of these and their impact. There are two proposals which the committee may be interested in relating to digital resilience and to cryptocurrency which are with the Parliament and Council. We have to be mindful of the environmental and climate impact of data centres. I thank the Deputy for raising it. We are looking at their environmental impacts. We have a taxonomy, or dictionary, of what a sustainable economic activity is. We refer to technical screening criteria for data centres. If the Deputy wants more information, my cabinet is happy to provide that.

Regarding sanctions, without repeating what was said in my answers, we have had sanctions in place since 24 June. I cannot give the impact chapter and verse, but they do have an impact. It hits people in the pocket. We will continue to monitor what is currently in place. With foreign affairs Ministers, we will look at whether more is needed. It is my role to ensure that sanctions are fully implemented but do not impact on those who they are not intended to hit.

When the Chairman throws "connective tissue" at me, I go back to my biology classes for my leaving certificate which, given my age, is some time ago. It refers to links between the European Parliament and Northern Ireland as opposed to the ones between my bones and my brain, which sometimes do not quite function. This is a serious point. It was raised by Deputy Ó Murchú. Everyone on this committee knows how politics work. We have many different views but we get around a table and sort them. It is important for Northern Ireland to have a voice. That has to be done through elected representatives, whether formally or informally. One thing that I have found in this connected world, although I am not sure of the Chair's view, is that it is good that we can communicate, but there is nothing quite like being in the room or being outside the door, in the lift or having coffee and hearing something. Somebody who is aggressive to you in a room can perhaps change his or her spots when you are outside. That is the beauty of politics and engagement. Real presence is vital. The European Parliament managed to go back to being semi-present in Strasbourg recently. While it was always tough for a Member of Parliament to go to Strasbourg, I realised how vital it is to have people there. So many issues can be sorted out. That is part and parcel of the committee's work and of my work on the Commission. One cannot really compensate for real engagement and being in the room.

I refer again to the Conference on the Future of Europe. Europe is criticised all the time, as it should be. With hand on heart, I was the greatest critic of the European Commission until I was put into the chair. I now have some sympathy for the European Commission. It takes a lot of the criticism and rightly so, because we develop policy. We are scrutinised by the European Parliament, which is right, and by the Council. We get on and do our work, convinced that, with all its flaws, Europe is the best answer to any problem you have because engagement works. Even though there are disagreements around the table, we always emerge from the room with a solution. Colleagues from the Oireachtas were present for my first speech in Strasbourg, including Deputy Niamh Smyth, which I really welcomed. We should not just look to what might be but to what is. Freedom of movement struck me. I have used those words flippantly for decades. Now I realise what an awful imposition it is when one does not have freedom of movement and how those who live in regimes where one cannot move or speak freely live awful lives. Let us cherish freedom of movement and other benefits that come with Europe.

Those things around freedom of movement and the other issues and benefits that come with Europe should be balanced against its ever-evolving nature because we have different politicians in the room depending on governments. Look at it as always a work-in-progress but do not always assume it will work in the right direction. It only works in the direction of those freedoms we all value and respecting democracy if we all engage. That is as true for citizens in Ireland as it is for all of the other 26 member states, which I hope to visit during my mandate.

As the members know, I came in a year late and have hit the ground running. I am lucky that I knew many of the colleagues around the table. I am lucky we are led by a President who is committed to many of the things I value, including equality. In my long years - I am 62 and am happy to say it; as long as you survive to it, it is good - she is the most committed to equality of any person I have worked with. I commend her on that and I feel very privileged to serve as the Irish Commissioner and to be nominated by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin. I appreciate his engagement with me and I hope to be with him tomorrow in Ireland when the President will also be present for an event.

My sincere thanks to the Cathaoirleach. I am happy to take a question if there is time. I very much appreciate the engagement this morning.


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