independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Grainne Cunningham: Ordinary Joes and Josephines thin on ground among 'citizens'

FORGET Big Brother – the EU is listening. At least, that is what we were told was the point of the 'Citizen's Dialogue' event in Dublin's City Hall, where political leaders waited to hear the views and worries of ordinary citizens.

At last, a chance for the common man (and woman) to voice their concerns about the cuts, the job losses and the fat-cat salaries.

Well, not quite. Because ordinary Joes and Josephines were thin on the ground among those who gathered for the launch of European Year of Citizens 2013.

Instead, the sign on the door read "private function" and there were rather too many familiar faces, recognisable because of their current or past involvement in public life.

Among the "citizens" in the audience we counted at least three MEPs, one former MEP, a former RTE boss and the head of a Catholic lobby group as well as a number of political activists.

European Commission (EC) president Jose Manuel Barroso launched the debate. After all, it was his idea to hold a series of dialogues with EU citizens from all walks of life and there have already been four others across the continent.

"Dia dhuit" said the Portuguese, to vigorous applause from his receptive audience for his charming effort to speak the cupla focal.

And he scored even more rapturous approval with his declaration that "in future, it should be the banks and their shareholders who pay to clean up the banks, not the taxpayer".

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the audience that the European Year of the Citizen would give citizens a "chance to consider what Europe means to you and what you can achieve for, and in, the European Union".

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said it was "up to us to choose the future we want".

But who decided who would attend the "citizen's" debate and who would ask the questions?

Interest

A spokeswoman for European Movement Ireland insisted they had invited a wide range of groups to express an interest and to write in 200 words why they should be among those to attend.

"To be honest, there is a massive mixture", she said, adding that about 200 invitees were selected from among 300 applicants on a first-come, first-served basis.

But no one could deny it was a broadly middle-class audience, peppered with the same old lobbyists for different interest groups.

Even that didn't guarantee a completely smooth ride for EC vice-president Viviane Reding and European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, who were challenged on the lavish lifestyle of EU politicians, while Fr Sean Healy of Social Justice Ireland queried policies which hurt poor people.

For those who would like to have their voice heard on EU issues, similar debates will be organised around the country in the coming months and information is available from www.europeanmovement.ie.

You might even be allowed in.

Irish Independent

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