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Moving the Euro constituency goalposts one more time – but who’ll notice the difference?

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World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

I’d say only a tiny percentage of the electorate in Galway could name the three MEPs for the North West constituency without any difficulty. I’ll go even further and I’d say that at least half my fellow political scribes in Leinster House would also have to think long and hard. And even after that mental struggle, I’d say about half of them would get it wrong.

The European Parliament is an institution that seems very distant from the lives of ordinary people in the West of Ireland and elsewhere. It’s a parliament, sure – a very big one with over 600 members – but it does not have much relevancy in people’s lives.

The first reason for that is that few people know what it does. And the second (more potent) reason is that its powers, albeit increased, are very limited, especially when compared with the European Commission with its executive Commissioners (including our own Maire Geoghegan Quinn) and with the Council of Ministers (the prime ministers of all the 29 EU countries).

So it’s Europe’s version of our Seanad, a talking shop that struggles to justify its existence.

And now here’s your starter for three – who are the MEPs for the Dublin constituency? The answer is at bottom of the column.

I know that sounds like a hard judgement as there are some very hard-working MEPs and some of the committees are effective. And yes, the parliament has acquired more power in recent weeks, but the relationship with the other two institutions remains very lopsided, a small satellite to two mega planets.

But for most of the general population, their only meaningful encounter with the parliament comes when its elections are held every five years.

And if you look at the way those election campaigns have been run, they have mostly been about just about everything else except the politics of Europe. A little analogous to the presidential elections, they have tended to be political beauty contests with more emphasis on image and style than substance.

That said, parties put a lot of emphasis on the elections, as they can give a psychological boost during the mid-term and also allow smaller parties a chance to acquire a national platform.

The Green Party had two MEPs for a long period even though its national figures were tiny. The Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins won a seat in the European Parliament in 2009, two years after losing his Dáil seat. The seat gave the party profile and funding at a time when its stock was low.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has announced that he will stand and if he wins a seat next year, it may give the same adrenalin shot to his party, after it reached rock bottom after the General Election two years ago.

Similarly, the European elections gave Fine Gael a massive fillip in 2004 and established a solid platform for the future, only two years after a disastrous General Election. It won five of the seats including getting two candidates (Avril Doyle and Mairead McGuinness) elected in the East constituency.

The expansion of the EU has meant that Ireland’s number of seats will be reduced to 11 for next year’s elections. The group which will recommend the changes will not be reporting until September (it’s very late, I know!) and the most likely outcome is the country will have three constituencies.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Sinn Féin will discover power brings evolution not revolution

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Taoiseach in waiting?...Mary Lou McDonald with Galway West TD Mairead Farrell on the streets of Galway.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Sinn Féin is not like any other party; even when it enjoyed only a fraction of the support of the SDLP it was still attracting the attention of the world media. During the 1980s and 1990s, just about the only Irish political figure American political journalists could name was Gerry Adams.

There was something about Sinn Féin that set it apart – that smell of cordite was catnip for the media.

So the party is viewed through a different lens than, say, the Labour Party, or the Social Democrats, or even the Greens. It carries original sin in the eyes of a portion of the electorate (generally older) who see its association with violence (which included many egregious murders and massacres) as unforgivable for all time.

For others, the passage of time has taken some of the sharp edges away. For the rest, specifically those born after the 1994 ceasefire, that is just not relevant to their lives. For some of those who remember those years, that attitude of younger voters is hard to stomach. But that’s the reality of how things stand just now.

I was always taken by the phrase of the late historian Ronan Farren that the birth certificates of all nations are blood-soaked. The fact of the matter is that Sinn Féin has been in from the cold for 25 years almost, accepting that it would strive to achieve its goals by exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Áras an Uachtaráin and the constitutional ties that bind

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Making headlines... President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina during their visit to the Galway 1916 Exhibition in the former Connacht Tribune Print Works on Market Street.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Those who become President of Ireland are, metaphorically, provided with a silken gag; for the seven years they reside in Áras an Uachtaráin, they are supposed to keep their opinions and personal political persuasions to themselves.

The relevant Article in the Constitution sets out this rule: “No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.”

The President is not allowed to leave the State without first receiving the advice (i.e. the permission) of the Government. Theoretically, every speech they make needs to be run by the government first.

The President is said to be “above politics”. That meant they are not subject to any criticism from parliament or from the government. The other side of the coin is that it is expected the President will not wander into the political forum.

For most of the time since the office of the President was established in 1937, these rules have caused no major problems. With one exception.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Trimble leaves a legacy of peace to be proud of

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David Trimble...lasting legacy.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The death of David Trimble brought back memories of the time he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize almost a quarter of a century ago, along with John Hume, for their efforts in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

It could be argued that others should have been also on the plane to Oslo that winter, namely Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness also played an important role by steering the hard men of the IRA on a path that saw them end their campaign of violence and accept a political solution achieved by solely democratic means.

Of course, it would have been a blatant contradiction to award a peace prize to Adams and McGuinness given their instrumental roles in a republican movement that prosecuted a ruthless armed strategy for almost 30 years right up to that time. The Damascene conversion in 1998 did not erase what had gone before.

Certainly, Hume and those around him from the SDLP – particularly Séamus Mallon – deserved all the praise they got for their selfless pursuit of a political pathway and their brave eschewal of all forms of violence as they grappled with the unique set of circumstances of Northern Ireland.

That said, Trimble showed a huge degree of personal courage and resilience in facing down his critics and enemies – and there were many loud and bitter voices condemning him on the unionist side – and persevering with the talks that culminated with the historic agreement in Hillsborough Castle on that Good Friday in early April in 1998.

But it would have been unimaginable for him to be in that position three years before hand or even three years afterwards when the UUP began imploding around him. The important thing was that he stayed the course during that crucial period.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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