Subscriber OnlyOpinion

Electing ‘characters’ as MEPs could do Ireland real harm

Part of the electorate regards European elections as an opportunity to vent their frustrations by voting for mavericks

The time has come for Irish voters to take the European elections seriously and pay proper attention to the implications of their choice for the country’s wellbeing, and indeed the entire continent, at this dangerous moment in global history.

For too long a significant segment of the electorate has regarded the contest as an opportunity to vent their frustrations by voting for mavericks of various hues. Some of them have turned out to be a national embarrassment.

In the last European elections five years ago voters elected four MEPs who were Eurosceptic, or “Eurocritical” as they now prefer to describe themselves. One of them, Luke Ming Flanagan, openly supported the Brexit campaigners who took the UK, including Northern Ireland, out of the European Union.

At present the four Eurosceptic MEPs who are members of the Left group in the European Parliament, mainly composed of former communists, are Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Ming Flanagan and Chris MacManus of Sinn Féin. Members of this Left group voted against resolutions condemning Putin’s actions in Ukraine and have been highly critical of the Nato and EU response.


In April 2022, just three months after the Russian invasion, Daly denounced sanctions in the parliament saying the EU response made her “absolutely sick”. The Irish Times Europe correspondent Naomi O’Leary discovered that Daly and Wallace had become staples of state-controlled media in the Russian, Chinese and Arabic languages where they are presented as important international figures who confirm regime positions.

The uncertain futures of Poland and Germany - with Derek Scally

Listen | 46:26

There is a strong chance that the number of MEPs who are highly critical of the EU as it stands could even rise from the current four in the election to be held on June 9th with Sinn Féin almost certain to gain at least two seats given its current standing in the opinion polls.

There is the prospect of right-wing Eurosceptics joining them too.

The paradox is that while Irish voters are the strongest supporters of the EU and its institutions out of the 27 member states, we consistently send a higher proportion of Eurosceptics to the parliament than almost any other nation.

Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher hit the nail on the head when he noted recently that the election of even more anti-EU Irish MEPs would undermine Ireland’s position as a small open economy whose prosperity depends on free trade, enterprise and foreign direct investment, all of which they oppose.

The parliament has evolved from a talking shop in its early days in the 1970s to being an important institution in the co-decision process which makes the rules and regulations that govern our lives

“Eurosceptic MEPs have embarrassed us over the past five years with voting records in direct opposition to the will of the majority of the Irish people. Their voting records on Ukraine and China do not represent Ireland well. Additionally, they consistently seek to undermine the economic foundations of our country’s prosperity,” he said.

Only two weeks ago, the four voted against a comprehensive new plan by the EU to streamline and speed up the asylum process for dealing with illegal migrants. The plan was backed by the big parties in the parliament but opposed by the far right and the far left who sought to capitalise on Continent-wide fears about migration. MacManus made the absurd claim that Ireland would be able to create a better and more efficient immigration system by opting out of the plan.

The opposition to a workable EU-wide approach to immigration reflects the hostility of our Eurosceptic MEPs to the freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services that govern the operation of the union. These four freedoms have underpinned the transformation of Ireland from a backward economy into one of the wealthiest in Europe.

The parliament has evolved from a talking shop in its early days in the 1970s to be an important institution in the co-decision process which makes the rules and regulations that govern our lives. More than 70 per cent of the legislation that goes through the Dáil and Seanad now has its origins in EU decisions. MEPs from the three Government parties are members of important groups in the parliament, the Christian Democrats, Liberals and Greens, and they have an opportunity to influence key decisions. The other influential group in the parliament are the socialists, but they have had no Irish member since the Labour Party lost its last European seat.

The support that all of the EU institutions gave to Ireland during the fraught Brexit negotiations arose in large part from the constructive role the mainstream parties in this country had played in the evolution of the union and the parliament. That cemented the commitment of the entire EU to Ireland’s cause in the years after the UK voted to leave.

This begs the question of what the future will hold if the Irish electorate sends a record number of Eurosceptic MEPs to the next parliament. It will make perfect sense for voters who hate the EU to support them but the large majority, who support the EU and its basic principles, needs to realise that sending “characters” to Strasbourg can do the country real harm.