Local Fine Gael Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, travelled to Brussels twice in recent times, his first foray into European politics.
He travelled to Brussels for the General Affairs Council or GAC, which is a monthly meeting of all European Affairs Ministers.
After returning to Westmeath, he then travelled to the European Council Summit with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, ahead of the meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and summit talks Thursday and Friday where migration, Ukraine and the economy were on the agenda.
“It was a busy time but productive for my portfolio. I have met some of my fellow European Affairs Ministers on Zoom since January but it’s not the same as being in the same room and getting to chat properly one on one. What surprised me was the huge goodwill expressed to me as the newest minister to the group with many of my counterparts personally outlining their support for Ireland as part of the Brexit negotiations and protocol talks.
“I also had the chance to meet with Maroš Šefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission who is leading the talks with the UK on behalf of the EU. He was extremely friendly and welcoming and provided me with an update on the talks, which are going well but which have some further hurdles to clear before there is a final agreement.
“I had planned to fly with the Taoiseach on Thursday morning but the late addition of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the schedule meant a late-night Wednesday flight. It was incredible to hear Zelenskyy and to hear the sheer grit and determination he has in him to protect his people and fight Russian aggression. Ireland then engaged in a bilateral talks with Ukraine. Zelenskyy appreciates Ireland’s neutral position, but we can and have sent aid for non-military purposes, and we will be redoubling our efforts to this. To date, Ireland has sent €66 million and he appreciates the political and financial support.
“I also was able to meet the rest of the EU Ministers I had not met Tuesday and had more time to talk about specific policies and issues coming up on the GAC agenda in a fortnight’s time. I spoke to different media organisation, outlining various Irish positions with regards migration, the Single Market, Russian sanctions and the economy. A big topic of interest this week in Brussels is the recent US legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, the impact this may have on European businesses and the actions we can take to ensure our businesses are supported and remain competitive in the global market.
“I am conscious that European politics can seem very far removed from everyday life in Ireland, this is a view I would have almost held myself in the past. I see now decisions discussed in Brussels, in Strasbourg and across the Union have profound effects on each citizen in Ireland and further afield. I am really looking forward to playing my part in debate and law-making in the period ahead, and representing the views of the people of Longford Westmeath both at home and abroad,” Deputy Burke stated.