Clowns to the right, voters to the left

European election candidates discuss housing and ringroad at Galway hustings, while RTÉ debate dominated by migration

"You're a clown, will ya stop?"  - Saoirse McHugh's putdown of Peter Casey on the Upfront RTÉ debate on Monday, June 20

"You're a clown, will ya stop?" - Saoirse McHugh's putdown of Peter Casey on the Upfront RTÉ debate on Monday, June 20

Half of the 27 candidates who have declared for the Midlands-North-West European Parliament constituency set out their stalls at two similar events this week with very different outcomes.

RTÉ’s first televised European Parliament election debate lined up eight candidates in Montrose on Monday evening, while the University of Galway’s Student Union building hosted six hopefuls for a constituency that covers 15 counties. The vast constituency - including Connacht with parts of Leinster and Ulster - will send five MEPs to Strasbourg to represent 1.8 million people living between the M50 and Malin Head.

Media coverage of RTÉ’s televised debate centred on testy exchanges concerning migration, and also Achill Island environmentalist Saoirse McHugh’s (Ind ) put-down of businessman Peter Casey (Ind ) when he interrupted her criticising US military use of Shannon Airport: “You’re a clown, will ya stop?” she snapped.

The candidates Barry Cowen (FF ), Luke Ming Flanagan (Ind ), Chris MacManus (SF ), Pauline O’Reilly (GP ), Peadar Toíbín (Au ) and Maria Walsh (FG ) also discussed agriculture and foreign policy, after answering probing questions by RTÉ’s Katie Hannon who had trawled through years of candidates’ social media posts to highlight inconsistencies in ideology and anecdote.

Meanwhile, in Galway, a more measured debate was compèred by UG law lecturer Larry Donnelly. Housing and transport issues were more to the fore than migration and agriculture for an audience of 40 people who appeared left-leaning based on questions from the floor.

The outstanding contributions were from social policy expert Rory Hearne (SD ) who made a convincing argument on how housing may already be an EU competency, and Senator Lisa Chambers (FF ) who used her late arrival due to traffic delays to issue a rousing call in support of Galway’s long-delayed outer city bypass.

“Directives can tackle dereliction and vacancy, while the EU Capital Markets Union can constrain vulture funds purchasing our housing as assets for wealth funds,” said Hearne, who was reticent to offer an opinion on the ring road beyond calling Galway city’s transport infrastructure “a complete mess”.

“First mooted nearly 25 years ago, it’s an absolute disgrace a road in the National Development Plan hasn’t been delivered because of environmental concerns,” Chambers said. “It’s the number one issue coming up campaigning around Galway. [Congestion] is actually putting off businesses investing in Galway city; it is damaging for mental health and the long-term viability of Galway as the regional driver for the entire west and northwest.”

Fergal Landy (Lab ) declared the region needs a bypass of Galway city, but not at the expense of public transport for people living within the city, and he criticised the “framing” of the original consultants’ report. He said housing and health services are dominant issues on doorsteps: “It suits the government parties to give short answers talking about people immigrating here, the real issue is housing people which demands longer answers.”

Economist Brian O’Boyle (PBP ) said the EU tackling corporate power was the sole solution for addressing climate change: “One third of all investments in Europe’s stock exchange [Euronext] are in oil, gas and automotive. It shows investors are not banking on us alleviating climate change.”

Comedy promoter Stephen Garland (Ind ) is campaigning on disability rights and medicinal cannabis. Living between Barcelona and Galway, he said AirBnB hollowing out city housing is an issue across Europe, and that regardless of a ring road Galway definitely needs a new bridge.

Irish-Australian civil engineer Daniel Pocock (Ind ) said he has sympathy for the Irish government’s quandary dealing with migration and housing because it can’t “move Ireland somewhere else” or “make the island bigger” for building. He called for railway investment, roads to be planned by experts, and for Ireland to not follow Australia or Britain’s flawed immigration policies.


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