| 22°C Dublin

A day in the life of an Irish MEP: Unravelling the mystery of what goes on inside European Parliament

The agenda is all-encompassing and can flip in an instant, from cyber security to Ukraine to Brexit, says Colm Markey

Close

MEP for the Midlands–North-West constituency Colm Markey

MEP for the Midlands–North-West constituency Colm Markey

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto

MEP Colm Markey feels it's important that Irish people are informed of how much work is carried out on their behalf in Brussels

MEP Colm Markey feels it's important that Irish people are informed of how much work is carried out on their behalf in Brussels

/

MEP for the Midlands–North-West constituency Colm Markey

THE inner workings of the political machine in Brussels continues to be a mystery to the Irish citizen. Many do not know who their Member of European Parliament (MEP) is or how EU legislation sets the national standard.

While 88pc of the population supports the EU, one in five do not have a good understanding of how it works, according to a European Movement Ireland poll.

In an attempt to draw back the curtain and shorten the distance between Dublin and Brussels, Independent.ie followed MEP Colm Markey for a day to get some insight into the EU Parliament.

“People do not appreciate how much they are impacted by what goes on in Brussels,” says the Fine Gael MEP. “There is a need at an Irish level to translate the message of what is going on here to make it relevant to people at home, but also very importantly, that people understand that you can actually feed into the system relatively easy. Europe is much more accessible than people give it credit for.

“When there is good news, the Government take credit for it. But when there is something that doesn’t work well, they blame the fellas all the way over there in Europe.”

Mr Markey has been an MEP for the Midlands–North-West constituency since 2020. The former Louth county councillor was handed a promotion as a result of the fallout from the Golfgate controversy.

When Mairead McGuiness was appointed a commissioner in place of Phil Hogan, Mr Markey suddenly found himself on a plane to Brussels without the need for an election.

On a normal week, his Monday begins at 3am as he leaves Togher, Co Louth for a red-eye Ryanair flight. Arriving in Brussels at 9:15am, he makes his way into the Parliament around 10:30am, at which point he’s been up for seven-and-a-half hours and the day is only beginning.

“I'll have my breakfast in here too,” he says. “See that bowl of cereal down there? I'll have that and a cup of tea.”

Leaving on Thursday evening, Mr Markey arrives in Dublin at 9:15pm and prepares for Friday. He usually has constituency events lined up for that day, which can take him across the 13 different counties he represents.

Daily Digest Newsletter

Get ahead of the day with the morning headlines at 7.30am and Fionnán Sheahan's exclusive take on the day's news every afternoon, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Close

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto

European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto

This is a weekly necessity for Irish MEPs, all of whom must divide their time between their constituencies and the many committees and votes they are required to participate in through their work in Brussels.

After arriving in Brussels, Markey heads straight for a press briefing with a group of national and local journalists along with his fellow Fine Gael MEPs.

His press officer, Kevin Purcell, was prepping him on a varied range of topics, such as cyber security, the Ukraine crisis and the 15pc loss of quotas for Irish fisheries since Brexit.

Mr Markey explained that the purpose of these meetings is to update journalists on the progress and priorities of the MEPs of each party.

In attendance were four out of the five Fine Gael MEPs – Mr Markey, Seán Kelly, Deirdre Clune, and Maria Walsh.

One might reasonably expect that the questions directed at Mr Markey would be limited to the topics he was most involved in, specifically Irish. But the scope of the questions bounced from local issues to international politics.

Mr Purcell later said that while he strived to keep his MEP as informed as possible, once the journalists started asking questions, all he could do was sit back.

The MEP added: “I need to have an opinion on a varied range of topics, basically everything. The range of things that you are asked is enormous. You do have to have an opinion and perspective across a massive range.

“But you cannot put words in someone's mouth. You have to get the person up to speed and understanding the issues. I want to understand the concepts and the crux of the issue in terms of what matters. Do not give me all the window dressing.”

Next up was a Young Fine Gael group who had just been given a tour of the EU Parliament.

Parliament houses the MEPs of 27 countries along with their staff. It seems to be a running joke among new MEPs and staff as to how easy it can be to get lost in the place.

They spent 15 minutes trying to find their way to the meeting room. In that time, they passed through what felt like endless identical halls of legislation and voting chambers.

A vote was scheduled to take place in 30 minutes and Mr Markey was eager to meet the youth of his party.

Close

MEP Colm Markey feels it's important that Irish people are informed of how much work is carried out on their behalf in Brussels

MEP Colm Markey feels it's important that Irish people are informed of how much work is carried out on their behalf in Brussels

MEP Colm Markey feels it's important that Irish people are informed of how much work is carried out on their behalf in Brussels

Once he arrived, there was a noticeable change in his demeanour. Whereas before he was focused and direct, now he was relaxed and sociable.

After a few minutes of small talk, he quickly switched to the minutiae of his duties as an MEP and what committees he participates in. It was not unlike the verbal gymnastics he performed with the journalists.

For the next 25 minutes, he covered topics such as internships in the EU and how Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the busiest days of his week.

Considering what Wednesday had been like so far, he was not wrong.

With five minutes to spare, Mr Markey and his team rushed to the EU voting chamber, known as the hemicycle. They voted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55pc by 2030.

After a quick lunch, he and the other three MEPs gathered to answer the questions of the Young Fine Gael group.

Once again, it became clear that these MEPs, while specialising in certain legislation, were expected to comment and discuss international political events far from Irish borders.

However, their comments always managed to return to Ireland, whether it was cyber security, Nato, or renewable energies.

Mr Markey outlined that Ireland and Estonia were the two strongest countries in the EU when considering cyber security, the worries of joining Nato (prompted by the Taoiseach’s comments), and how Ireland should focus on ports and wind power.

Eventually they were told that they were holding up the Croatian prime minister and had to leave.

“We have an 88pc pro-Europe population in Ireland so we have a very high satisfaction rate, France is 27pc,” Mr Markey notes as we round up.

“But the reality is that despite this percentage, people are not that aware of the EU. We failed to communicate what Europe does for people; eventually that could lead to countries like France. There is a disconnect between what Europe actually does for France, and people's understanding of what Europe does for France.

“While it may not be particularly evident in Ireland at the moment, that apathy towards Europe is a concern.”


Related topics


Most Watched





Privacy