Dick Roche is the Minister for European Affairs and a member of Fianna Fail, the main Governing party in Ireland. In that capacity he is responsible for coordinating the European dimension of all of the Irish Government’s policy and legislative initiatives including the proposed second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
He has agreed to an interview next Tuesday which I hope to document on this blog. I am currently planning the interview and would like to enlist your help in coming up with some good questions - particularly from a European angle, or from the perspective of your own country.
Obviously much of the interview will be ad lib in response to how the conversation flows, but I would like to have a list of questions prepared in order to ensure I don’t miss the opportunity of asking a relevant question. So here are some of the questions I am thinking of asking. Please add some further suggestions in the comments!
1. Minister, there is an old joke that the difference between Ireland and Iceland is one letter and about 6 months. In recent weeks we seem to have been making strenuous efforts to catch up with Iceland. The Irish Economy is expected to decline by 6% this year and next, unemployment is expected to rise to 17% next year, and with the current budget deficit is expected to come in at over 10% of GDP this year and next - over 3 times the Maastricht Growth and Stability Pact limit. How do you think this will impact on the European Elections in Ireland?
2. The recent Sunday Business Post Red C poll put Fianna Fail at 23% of the vote - a historic low - which compares to the 42% you received in the last general election in 2007. If that poll turns out to be accurate, Fianna Fail could be fighting for the last seat in each of Ireland’s 4 Euro constituencies. Do you think it is possible that Fianna Fail might lose a seat in one or more constituencies?
3. The fact that Sean O Neachtain, Fianna Fail sitting MEP in Ireland North West has withdrawn due to ill-health means that Declan Ganley of Libertas is now the only candidate based in Galway, the main city in the region. Given the tendency of people to cross party lines to support local candidates, do you think Ganley now has a realistic chance of being elected?
4. Fine Gael (the main opposition party) have nominated a very strong second candidate in Ireland South in Sean Kelly, a former high profile President of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Does that give Fine Gael a chance of a second seat in Ireland South or will the last seat go to Labour or the sitting Independent MEP Kathy Synnott?
5. Labour have nominated Nessa Childers, a daughter of a former Fianna Fail cabinet minister and President of Ireland, and also a former Green Party Councillor, for the Ireland East Constituency. Do you think her name recognition and association with both Fianna Fail and the Greens puts her in the ideal position to take the third and last seat there from Fine Gael?
6. There are 4 sitting MEPs in the Dublin Constituency which is being reduced to 3 seats for this election. This means at least one sitting MEP has to lose out, and the pundits seem to be predicting that the last seat could be between Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. Wouldn’t it be extraordinarily embarrassing for Fianna Fail to lose to Sinn Fein and have no seat in the Nation’s Capital? Could such a defeat threaten Brian Cowen’s leadership of the Party?
7. Fine Gael and Labour, the two main opposition parties, make much of their membership of the two largest groups in the European parliament, the EPP and PES respectively, whereas Fianna Fail has been a member of the much more marginal UEN group and is talking about joining the liberal ALDE group. Does this not undermine Fianna Fail’s credibility as the leading Irish party in Europe particularly as Fine Gael got 5 seats to your 4 at the last election?
8. Is it not a little surprising, just when you are thinking of joining the Liberal ALDE group, that the Fianna Fail Minister for Justice should bring in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Act in which he proposes to bring in a new crime of Blasphemous Libel? Is this not bringing us back to the 1950’s, or the divisive referendum campaigns on Divorce and Abortion in the 1980’s? Some people (myself included) have suggested that Fianna Fail might be trying to distract attention from the economic situation, and that you tried a similar diversionary tactic ahead of the last European Elections when you proposed controversial reforms of immigration and asylum laws to shore up your conservative and nationalist base?
9. Many people deride the European parliament as a home for retired national politicians or people who couldn’t otherwise make it in national politics. What distinctive contribution did the Fianna Fail members of the last Parliament make, and how would you see them influencing policy and legislation in the next parliament? What are your main policy priorities in the EU? Why was their no EU Stimulus plan to tackle the global recession?
10. Lastly, a question on the Lisbon Treaty. I know it’s not directly an issue in this election, but a second referendum is widely expected to be held next October. Why do you think people who voted NO the last time around, or indeed didn’t vote at all, should vote YES this time around? What do you say to those who complain that Ireland is being bullied by the European Elite to keep voting until it produces the “right” answer?
Obviously the above questions have a strongly Irish focus. If you are interested in his views on Enlargement - on the accession of Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, or Iceland to name but 4 possible applicants, or on any other European topic, please let me know.