Fine Gael’s leader in the European Parliament Seán Kelly has come under scrutiny for undeclared meetings with the gas industry in advance of a crucial vote on green buildings legislation.
Kelly is the lead negotiator on behalf of Fine Gael’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group on a planned directive that would oblige the EU’s 27 member states to upgrade buildings to make them use less energy, a central plank of the EU’s green deal to meet carbon reduction targets.
In a vote this week, MEPs included an amendment that would allow boilers to be installed in new buildings, as long as they are certified to be able to run on hydrogen or biofuels.
NGOs criticised the amendment, claiming it was the result of lobbying by the gas industry and warning that these boilers would only use renewable fuels if they are connected to such a system, and would otherwise continue to run on fossil fuel gas.
In June 2022 Kelly was a speaker at an event organised by Liquid Gas Europe, at which representatives of the gas industry association argued an allowance for boilers that use liquid gas should be included in the buildings renovation legislation concerned, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.
The event was not declared by Kelly as a lobby meeting. Lead negotiators on legislation are obliged to report meetings that relate to the file they are working on in the parliament’s transparency register, though industry-sponsored events are something of a grey area.
The event was added to the register after Kelly was contacted by Brussels-based outlet Politico for comment about it. An assistant told Politico that it had initially not been registered due to an “admin error” and that “it was our understanding that we didn’t break any rules”, the news organisation reported.
The general manager of Liquid Gas Europe, Ewa Abramiuk-Lete, told Politico that she had discussed the issue with Kelly when they met “informally” in Strasbourg at plenary sessions of the European Parliament, and that she had also met him at three European Energy Forum dinner events in the past year.
Kelly’s team told the outlet that these were “passing conversations” that “didn’t influence the policy process”.
After the legislation passed a key vote this week in the European Parliament, Dublin Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe, who leads the parliament’s overall negotiations on the file, said that the boiler amendment had been included on the insistence of the European People’s Party.
“It was seen as a red line issue by the European People’s Party,” Cuffe told reporters, describing the inclusion of the amendment as “regrettable” but unavoidable.
“It became clear that we would not get the majority we needed without allowing for the possibility of hybrid boilers,” he said.
In comments reported by Politico, Kelly denied that lobbying efforts played a role in the amendment, telling the outlet that he had met with gas industry representatives “disproportionately less than others”.
“I completely reject the line of questioning that suggests I have special relationship with the gas industry,” he said. “I have no connection with any industry and I was guided by the priorities of the political group I was representing.”
In a statement, Kelly told The Irish Times that his understanding was that the meetings did not fall under parliament’s obligatory reporting rules, but that he would be seeking further clarity from parliament “to avoid any further attacks on my credibility”.
“I completely reject any of the line of questioning that suggests I have a special relationship with any particular industry. I only conduct meetings in public areas and any inference that I have something to hide is simply not accurate, in fact I have one of the highest amount of reported meetings among Irish MEPs and the other MEPs negotiating this particular file,” Kelly said in a statement.
“I must admit I am disappointed in some of the reporting in this area, one of the meetings referred to was a publicly-broadcasted event where I spoke alongside high-level officials in the Commission. The other refer to a debate that I attended and briefly spoke to other guests. These were general debates on EU energy and not directly related to the file I was involved in.”
He said that he was being “attacked by some environmental NGOs” and that this was ironic as the directive “would not have passed without the work my team and I did”.
“The reality is that I had to fight tooth and nail to ensure the buildings directive got a majority in Parliament,” Kelly said. It passed with 343 votes in favour on Tuesday, opening the way for negotiations to start with EU member states, the next stage of passing the directive.
As reported by The Irish Times in December, Kelly was among five MEPs to report no meetings with lobbyists and interest groups in the three initial years of their terms in the European Parliament.
In the wake of the report, all five Fine Gael MEPs committed to publicly recording meetings undertaken in their work as members of the European Parliament.