Wednesday, 6 February 2019
European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage
I have come late to the debate but have been following it. I was a little disappointed when the report came out on the European constituencies. I had made a submission to the process last year. I appreciate that on many occasions we must play the hand we are dealt. We respect the independent commission and support its findings. We are not going to get into splitting hairs on that. My own submission reflected the identity of the natural hinterland, the natural affinity and identity that already exists within the provincial system, rather than the somewhat artificial entities of Ireland South and Midlands-North-West, which we had in the last elections. Kildare, for example, is now to be in a different constituency from Laois and Offaly. I am not sure exactly where the lines fall. The commuter belt, the doughnut around Dublin, is split into two if not three constituencies. We have Dublin in the middle and Dublin deserves its own European constituency. The population numbers are there and it makes perfect sense. It is a capital city and should be a constituency in its own right. However, the commuter belt would have more of a commonality of issue, purpose and representation than either north or south of the commuter belt would have with, say, Donegal on one side or Kerry on the other. The horse has bolted to an extent, certainly in terms of respecting the independence of the report and supporting its findings. However, that was an opportunity missed. I would have liked to see it split another way. The old delineation of Connacht, Ulster, Leinster minus Dublin and Munster was much more natural than these artificial constructs. It does cause issues and splits. We see around all constituencies that there are different socioeconomic strata up and down the constituency but they blend into a whole. However, at European level, at constituency and representational levels, it can be difficult for somebody to make a case. Somebody might be very knowledgeable in one area. The coastal west Atlantic is quite different from the inner suburbs, almost, of Dublin. Places like Leixlip and Letterkenny, which are in the same constituency, are actually poles apart in many ways. That was a pity. I did make a submission along those lines and the numbers were there to do it slightly differently. However, we are where we are.
On the Sinn Féin proposal, I listened with interest to the speakers. I do not dismiss it out of hand at all. There is merit and some interest to it. However, I do fear that, like much of what Sinn Féin proposes, there is more tokenism than actual thought put into it. I do not mean to disrespect Deputy Ó Broin or his colleagues but it is about beating a totem pole rather than going for a genuine, practical, real result. It is too late. I am not beholden to legal advice but apparently the legal advice is against it. I have looked at the various European Court of Justice decisions and so on. It is probably too late in the day for that. There is a degree of hypocrisy to it. We had the argy-bargy a few minutes ago. Without representatives in Stormont or Westminster, for Sinn Féin to look for representation in Europe sticks in the craw a little bit. It seem inconsistent at the very least and hypocritical at worst. It is difficult to listen to it.
My understanding of the legalities is that one of the reasons it is advised that it cannot be done is that different citizens would have different representation, for example some Irish citizens in the North as opposed to Irish citizens domiciled elsewhere. There are arguments for diaspora representation. During Seanad reform we could have created seats for the diaspora that would feed into more domestic seats. However, we do not consider citizens in the North to be a diaspora: we consider them to be part of the Irish nation. That is reflected in Articles 2 and 3 as reformulated in the Good Friday Agreement. I think there is a basis there but it is too late on this occasion. I do not dismiss the idea out of hand but it is too little, too late. Maybe if Sinn Féin was at more tables in more parliaments and committees around these islands it would not be too late and maybe there would have been some progress made on it in the last two and a half years.
I did knock on doors in Northern Ireland in the last election and look forward to doing so again at the next election. One thing that struck me was the amount of churn. When I was up there it was the fourth election in a few years. There have been two assembly elections, two United Kingdom general elections and the Brexit referendum. The voters in Northern Ireland have gone to the polls five times in the last two and a half years and are about to go for a sixth and seventh time with local and European elections on the horizon. I look forward to canvassing up there again. Maybe I will see Deputy Ó Broin on the doorsteps and we will pass pleasantries as we go by. Maybe Fianna Fáil will support its candidate to get the seat ahead of Sinn Féin. That will be another day's work.