Tuesday 17 September 2019

'A brother-in-law and a husband of a sister-in-law' - 'Ming' Flanagan admits hiring relatives in previous EP term

MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan. Photo: Tom Burke
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Alan O'Keeffe

When politicians choose to put people on the public payroll, their choices generate curiosity. The Sunday Independent contacted all 11 active Irish MEPs in recent days about their hiring decisions for the current term of the European Parliament.

It followed deputy political editor Philip Ryan's report that MEP Clare Daly had hired the son of her close friend and political colleague Mick Wallace to work for her at the European Parliament.

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Although she did not accept an invitation to comment before it was published, she declared later that everyone she hired was part of "an excellent team of highly qualified professionals."

In a statement released the day the story broke she claimed her employment of Fionn Wallace as an accredited assistant at taxpayers' expense was "a sensational non-story". Philip Ryan's article generated widespread media coverage and public interest.

All Irish MEPs beginning their new terms in the European Parliament were sent queries by the Sunday Independent about aspects of their hiring choices.

They were asked if they had known their staff in a non-professional capacity before hiring them and if they were related by blood or marriage.

Independent Luke Ming Flanagan said he hired two people related to him through marriage during the previous term of the European Parliament. He is currently in the process of hiring staff for the new parliament.

The two staff members were "a brother-in-law and a husband of a sister-in-law", he stated.

He hired a total of seven staff during the last parliament. He said he knew his staff members before hiring them as he had worked with them "on voluntary community projects and various campaigns to do with bank debt, water charges and turf cutting, among others".

Fine Gael's Mairead McGuinness, a veteran MEP and first vice-president of the European Parliament, said one of her paid assistants is married to her brother-in-law.

She is currently finalising contracts with staff for the new parliamentary term. She referred to her transparency statement last January when she said MEPs employ staff in Brussels, Strasbourg and Ireland and the salaries and expenses are paid from a budget set by the European Parliament.

"In 2018, I employed four staff members. None are related to me, one is married to my brother-in-law. I also employed an intern for a six-month period," she stated.

Hiring in-laws or people closely connected to one's family is not against European Parliament rules. The old practice of some MEPs hiring members of their immediate families was banned in 2009 and phased out finally in 2014.

Brexiteer Nigel Farage MEP had employed his wife since 2006 as his parliamentary assistant. After the ban, she was hired by fellow Ukip MEP Raymond Finch.

A European Parliament spokesperson told this newspaper: "The new rules are intended to ensure transparency, hence why the parliament also requires the names of employees of MEPs to be published.

"The rules foresee that MEPs can't fund contracts providing for the employment or the use of the services of members' spouses or stable partners." Nor can they employ their parents, children, brothers or sisters, he said.

Parliamentary procedures require all candidates to produce CVs and educational qualifications.

All the other Irish MEPs, except Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, responded to our emails and they stated none were hiring relations or in-laws. Ciaran Cuffe said he was hiring his Green Party election manager. He will hire three more staff and he had received more than 300 job applications. He was interviewing a shortlist of eight candidates.

Green Party colleague Grace O'Sullivan is hiring her campaign manager Jackie Corcoran and her personal advisor in Seanad Eireann, Ed Davitt. She is hiring two others with whom she has had no prior dealings.

Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher said he has hired one person and will hire two more. One of them he had never met. "I did not even have to advertise because when you come out here, CVs just fly at you," he said.

Former Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald was hiring three staff. She did not know them in a non-professional capacity. Party colleague Sean Kelly said he did not know any of his four staff individually before hiring them.

Matt Carthy said his five assistants were hired through Sinn Fein's HR department using European Parliament best practice. He only knew one of his staff previously. New Fine Gael politician Maria Walsh said none of the three staff she hired were known to her in a non-professional capacity.

Sunday Independent

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