Wednesday 23 October 2019

John Downing: 'Latest puzzle at EU level will put two MEPs into 'cold storage''

 

There are increasing signs the UK could still be an EU member by the time the European Parliament elections happen in May. Photo: REUTERS
There are increasing signs the UK could still be an EU member by the time the European Parliament elections happen in May. Photo: REUTERS
John Downing

John Downing

Another day brings another series of questions - some answerable and many just still hanging out there - about the detailed implications of Brexit.

Before the TDs and senators of the Finance Committee yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was acting all coy about how much the original €500,000 estimate to bring broadband to half-a-million rural farms, homes and businesses would actually grow.

Mr Varadkar stuck with his "many multiples" increase on the original estimate. He stonewalled when Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty kept asking whether the spiral was times three or times six, that would be either €1.5bn or €3bn to you and me.

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The Taoiseach said he would keep the bad news until late March or early April. By then he could be back in the Dáil seeking huge aid for farmers and food processors. It would be a case of delivering all the bad news at one fell swoop.

At the same time, back in the main Dáil chamber, junior local government minister John Paul Phelan was trying to unpick another Brexit puzzle. This one relates to the European Parliament elections due on Friday, May 24.

On the assumption that the UK was leaving, a chunk of its Euro seats was to be divided out. There were to be two extra seats allocated to Ireland, one in Dublin bringing the tally to four; another in South (basically Munster and south Leinster), bringing its total to five.

But now there are increasing signs the UK could still be an EU member by the time those elections happen. That reality poses a tangle of interlocking puzzles for the best EU legal brains to unpick.

But Mr Phelan said that one upshot for the Euro elections in Ireland was that two extra seats may not materialise. Again, there was a long list of tricky questions that only time and those Euro lawyers can ever answer.

The Kilkenny stalwart was just sticking with what he knew. This was that if Ireland does not get the extra seats, the last two MEPs home in Dublin and South would be "put in cold storage".

Would this unlucky pair ever get to sit in the European Parliament? More to the point for the "frozen duo" - would they be paid? Will their fate be the dubious distinction of becoming a bad pub quiz question?

Mr Phelan did not have the infallibility of his one-time namesake to answer. But he could offer one crumb of comfort: if one or both of the unlucky "cold storage" ones was a TD or a senator, they would be exempted from the dual mandate ban and could continue on the Leinster House payroll until all was sorted out.

The other questions would have to await European Parliament rulings and how this Brexit slow bicycle race will end. Few beyond the political bubble will care, but we note that a successful Euro campaign starts at €100,000.

There will very likely be law cases arising. But it's another Brexit horror twist.

Irish Independent

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