Wednesday, September 21, 2005

'Opportunity Europe' welcomed by UUP

East Antrim MLA Ken Robinson has welcomed the “Opportunity Europe” Programme, which is to be held in N Ireland from 26th September to 4th October a press release reports: "“With the absence of the Assembly the opportunity to consistently bring European matters to the attention of a wider audience in N Ireland has been diminished. However, I am delighted that this deficit is being addressed by this series of events. These will begin, appropriately enough, on the 26th September which is the European Day of Languages. It is important for a variety of reasons that we encourage our people not only to learn a foreign language but also to develop an understanding of different cultures. An opportunity for a language taster will be part of a two day exhibition to be held in St George’s Market in Belfast on the 3rd and 4th October that will include a variety of stands and other activities."


Monday, September 12, 2005

Slow blogging

I am on my way to Lyon for a conference therefore "About EU" will be a little bit slow this week.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

'British EU Presidency intent on Curtailing Civil Liberties' - de Brún

Reacting to the Charles Clarke's speech at the European Parliament, SF MEP Bairbre de Brún said: "Mr Clarke and the British Government have obviously learned nothing from their experiences in Ireland. Their tough 'anti-terror stance', which is fixated on security at the expense of justice, will only lead to further injustices. It will not make people or communities in the EU any safer."


Irish Uncertain Towards the Constitutional Treaty - Poll

The European Commission has carried a survey (see the executive summary - pdf) on Irish attitudes towards the EU. The research found that while more than three-quarters of Irish people have heard about the European Constitution, very few know what is in it. The survey reports that awareness about the Treaty has risen substantially over the past year. Just over a third say they are in favour of the constitution with 13% saying they are against it. However, half of Irish people say they have no opinion about the Treaty and two-thirds say that while they have heard about the document, they have no idea what is in it. SF MEP Bairbre de Brún reacted to the poll by saying: "This latest survey clearly shows that people are still none the wiser." More here:

"There are those who will tell us that the EU Constitution referendum defeats in French and the Netherlands were a result of a lack of communication between the EU and citizens. However, it is much more serious than that. It is clear that a fundamental democratic deficit exists within the EU and its institutions. If an EU Constitution referendum is to be held in the 26 counties, then the Government needs to clearly inform people what they will be voting upon, in light of rejection by other EU member states.

"It is particularly worrying that many people are not even aware of the existence of the EU Constitution. This Government must commit itself immediately to a strategy of effectively communicating relevant and independent information on the ramifications of the EU Constitution to the people. If a referendum does take place, then communicating that information during the campaign will be much too late, and leaves no time for informative debate.

"Considering agreement on the EU Constitution was reached during Ireland's stewardship of the European Union then clearly these survey results represents a monumental failure on the part of the government."


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bairbre de Brún Briefed GUE/NGL on Peace Process

It has been reported that SF MEP Bairbre de Brún "has this morning updated MEPs from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group (GUE/NGL)in the European Parliament on the current state of the peace process and the ongoing campaign of loyalist violence against vulnerable nationalist communities. Ms de Brún briefed the MEPs in Strasbourg this morning." More here

Speaking today Ms de Brún said:

"This morning's briefing of MEPs from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament is part of an on-going series of engagements with MEPs from across Europe, on the situation at home. I briefed the group on the IRA initiative of July 28th and the potential for unlocking the peace process. They were also keen to hear at first hand, about the systematic and orchestrated campaign of violence by loyalist paramilitaries, and the unwillingness of the PSNI to deal with the situation.

"It is clear that the peace process can move forward, but only if the political will exists. It is imperative that the two governments act, and that the DUP engages in political dialogue. All of their possible excuses are now gone, although it remains to be seen if they are up to the task of peace-building, or continue to be interested in political grandstanding.

"The European Parliament group expressed their solidarity and support for the peace process and the Sinn Féin peace strategy. They were also keen to find out in what ways they could assist the search for lasting peace in Ireland. We will continue with these engagements, not only to engage with other Europeans, but to internationalise our struggle."


Olympic Games : "A Key Opportunity for NI" - Allister

It has been reported that "DUP MEP Jim Allister, in addressing the European Parliament on tourism today, called for a nation-wide share out of the benefits which will flow from London hosting the Olympic Games in 2012. Mr Allister also identified 2012 as a key tourism opportunity for Northern Ireland, based on the Titanic centenary. The MEP also managed to make mention of Northern Ireland's momentous football victory over England." More Here
In the course of his remarks, Mr Allister said:-

"Tourism in any region should be a positive contributor to economic growth and stability. Plainly, tourism and terrorism don't mix. As an area, meant to be emerging for good from the dark shadow of IRA terrorism, we in Northern Ireland are beginning to see steady gain from increased tourism.

I greatly welcome this, but recognise that without real governmental commitment, the full potential can never be achieved. Tourism must plan well; it must build on opportunities. The Olympic Games coming to London in 2012 is such an opportunity. I call for not just the Games, but the tourism spin off, to be so managed and organised that every region of the UK will benefit. 2012 also presents particular opportunity to Belfast, as it is the Titanic centenary - I might say we had a "titanic" victory last night in beating England. A world class Titanic exhibition centre is planned for the very site where the famous ship was built. I trust neither national government nor the Commission will be found wanting in financially contributing to the great success which this venture can be."


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Charles Clarke' Speech at the EP

The UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke was addressing this morning a speech to the European Parliament on the fight against terrorism. Clarke insisted that tougher intelligence-gathering powers across Europe to combat terrorism would not erode human rights: "we can only effectively contest them if we know what they are communicating. Without that knowledge we are fighting them with both hands tied behind our backs. And of course the criminals know that and organise themselves to take advantage of our weaknesses" said the Home Secretary. Reacting to this speech, DUP MEP Jim Allister said: "Charles Clarke is right to defend the rights of the targets of terrorism over the perpetrators of terrorism. He is wrong, however, to place reliance on centralised Brussels action over the paramount right and duty of the member state to defend its own citizens. I must also comment that I cannot forget that this tough talking Home Secretary represents the same Government which shamelessly released hundreds of convicted terrorists onto the streets of Northern Ireland, in an attempt to placate the very terrorists who had bombed all parts of the UK, including London. Will history repeat itself in the fight against Islamic terrorism?" I hope not."


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Bairbre de Brun Welcomes EU Social Inclusion Programme in Employment

It has been reported that Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún "has this morning spoken in the European Parliament in support of the establishment of a community programme relating to employment and social cohesion. The programme particularly supports gender mainstreaming and people with disabilities."
More here

Ms de Brún welcomed the report by Karin Jöns MEP regarding the establishment of 'a Community programme for employment and social solidarity - PROGRESS' between the years 2007 and 2013. In her speech, she stressed the importance of providing support for NGOs.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms de Brún said:

"Let us be clear, the current EU economic strategies are driving more and more people into poverty within the European Union. I hope that this PROGRESS programme can be an important instrument in the fight against social exclusion and on this basis, I will be voting in favour of the report.

"I particularly want to welcome the emphasis placed upon the inclusion of gender mainstreaming, people with disabilities and the NGO sector in this programme. I also want to throw my support behind calls for an increase in financial aid from €628.8 to €943.2 million. If projects such as those to be supported by this programme are to be successful, then resources need to be targeted and sustainable.

"The strengthening of gender equality should be supported wholeheartedly by the European Parliament. In Ireland, the gender pay gap has substantially increased for women and the gap between men's and women's pay is among the largest of any EU member state. Irish women are paid 17% less for the same work as Irish men.

"Sinn Féin believes in bringing about fundamental change within society to both mindsets and social conditions. Let us be clear, the current economic strategies are driving more and more people into poverty within the European Union. I hope that the PROGRESS programme can be an important instrument in the fight against social exclusion. On this basis, I will be voting in favour of the report, and urge my fellow MEPs to do likewise."


Bairbre de Brun Welcomes Directive on Waste Management

Addressing the European Parliament yesterday, SF MEP Bairbre de Brun said: "Mr President, although mining is less widespread in Ireland now than it once was, some mining companies have left a legacy that continues to pollute our land and water due to a lack of proper checks. A case in point is the situation in Tynagh Mines in Co. Galway in the West of Ireland, which, since its closure in 1981, has continued to be an environmental hazard. Throughout the European Union, hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated by mining and many sites left in a condition which poses grave dangers. It is important, therefore, to deal not only with waste generated following such a directive but also to deal with historical waste arising from facilities that have been abandoned or which were not shut down properly. We should also reverse the Council’s lifelong exemption from some of the key provisions for certain existing facilities. The rapporteur’s proposals, as one of my colleagues has already said, are balanced; they should be welcomed by responsible companies within the mining industry, as well as by people whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by irresponsible mining operations. I commend this excellent report by Mr Sjöstedt and thank him for his work."


Bairbre de Brun meets Disability Campainers at the EP

It has been reported that Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún today "met with disability campaigners from across Ireland today at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The group have travelled to Strasbourg to meet with MEPs to press the case for disability rights. They will converge in the French city tomorrow for a protest rally to coincide with the arrival of EU Commissioners." This is part a of a campaign organised by the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) - an organisation of disabled persons from across Europe - campaigning for disability rights and independent living. ENIL are organising the Strasbourg Freedom Drive 2005,a Europe-wide event to foster and support the active citizenship of disabled people in the European Union, particularly disabled people who need personal assistance users and aspire towards Independent Living. The Strasbourg Freedom Drive will also highlight the needs of disabled people in developing countries.


Nicholson spoke against the directive on Waste from Extractive Industries

I has been reported that UUP MEP spoke against the directive on Waste from Extractive Industries: "He criticised the proposal as another attempt to make "one suit fit all" noting that smaller extractive industries such as small quarries might not be able to cope with the new demands to be imposed under the proposal. He also referred to the different interpretation in the implementation of directives in member states citing the example of the Waste Oil Directive which has been differently interpreted in the UK and the Irish Republic."


Allister Attacks Waste Directive

It has been reported that DUP MEP Jim Allister " has spoken out in the European Parliament against proposals to impose further legislative restraints on all quarries. During the second reading debate on the Directive of the Management of Waste from Extractive Industries, the MEP labelled proposals to impose the same restraints on non-hazardous quarries, producing inert waste, as on Category A hazardous waste operations, as oppressive and destructive of competitiveness." More here
Mr Allister said:-

"One-size fits all" is one of the curses of EU legislation. If the Environment Committee gets its way here, again, we will have a classic illustration of it in action. Though not all extractive industries have the same environmental and safety impact, the Environment Committee would have this legislation make them all needlessly subject to the same restraint.

Legislation to fit the need is one thing; legislation not tailored to need is invariably oppressive and destructive of competitiveness. And so it is here, with the rapporteur trying to require all sites, regardless of size, product and complexity, to comply with all Articles. There is no sound reason why the shallow sand quarry should be subjected to the same legislative demands as a large deep mine producing hazardous waste.

The requirements for non-hazardous or inert waste should remain proportional and not, as proposed by the Environmental Committee, be largely subject to the same stringency as Category A hazardous waste sites.

With the existing Framework Directive on Waste and the Landfill Directive making adequate provision for non-hazardous waste quarries, there is no convincing or compelling reason for these further burdens on this important sector of our economic production."


Colombia vs Columbia?

As an observer of this blog emailed me, there is only one correct spelling for the South American state and it is Colombia. According to my Collins dictionary, 'Colombia' refers to the South American state and 'Columbia' to the North-American river which "rising in the Rocky Mountains and flowing through British Columbia", it also names a city in South Carolina, USA. However, the use of either 'Columbia' or 'Colombia' lacks of consistency. I have noticed that the UUP and DUP use the spelling 'Columbia', while not referring to the North-American river, in their press release. However, if we search the word 'Colombia' in SF' search engine, we get 272 answers. More surprisingly, if we search 'Columbia' on the same search engine we get eight answers, excluding the latest press release from Gerry Kelly which managed to spell twice 'Columbia' and once 'Colombia'. If anybody has an explanation, I would be very curious to read it.


Monday, September 05, 2005

Unionists MEPs Urge Dublin to Send "Colombia 3" back to Colombia

Speaking today at the European Parliament DUP MEP Jim Allister and UUP MEP Jim Nicholson urged Dublin to send back to Colombia the three Irishmen: "I utterly condemn the duplicity and hypocrisy of Dublin, but above all I call on it to end the shame and return these fugitives forthwith" said Jim Allister. Mr Nicholson also used his speaking right to say: "I believe that in the interests of fighting international terrorism these men should be returned to Columbia to finish the sentences they were given there and not be allowed to go free as at present"
More here


During this afternoon's session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson called on the Irish government to send the so-called "Columbia 3" back to Columbia.

Mr. Nicholson said, "During this summer we have witnessed the return to the Republic of Ireland of the "Columbia 3". The three mean were convicted in Columbia of assisting the FARC terrorists there. I believe that in the interests of fighting international terrorism these men should be returned to Columbia to finish the sentences they were given there and not be allowed to go free as at present."


At the start of the first sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg after the summer recess, DUP MEP JIM ALLISTER, used an adjournment debate to launch a stinging attack on the Dublin Government continuing to provide sanctuary to the three international terrorists who fled Columbia.

Mr Allister said:-

“I want to draw attention to the fact that since we last met a Member State, the Republic of Ireland, shamefully has been harbouring three convicted international terrorists.

IRA terrorists, Monaghan, Connolly and McCauley, were duly convicted of training FARC guerrillas in Columbia, skipped bail – partly put up by the Dublin Government – and now, on the back of a sordid deal with the IRA, and despite Interpol warrants are brazenly flaunting themselves in Dublin.

To date Ireland has done nothing to meet its international obligations, but rather continues to provide complicit sanctuary for these international terrorists, thereby making a mockery of its affirmations in this House against such terrorism, when President of the Council just over a year ago.

I utterly condemn the duplicity and hypocrisy of Dublin, but above all I call on it to end the shame and return these fugitives forthwith.”

Speaking after the debate Jim Allister said, “I intend to use this international forum to keep the spotlight on Dublin’s failure to meet its international obligations and therefore I will continue the pressure through parliamentary questions and motions.”


Bairbre de Brún to Challenge Jim Allister at the EP

A press release from SF reports that: "Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will this evening address the European Parliament on the continuing campaign of loyalist violence across the 6 counties. Ms de Brún said she would use the forum to challenge 'DUP ambivalence to the sectarian campaign waged against vulnerable nationalist communities.'" Watch the debate on live here. More here

"Ms de Brún is due to deliver a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg this evening, highlighting the ongoing campaign of intimidation against nationalists in the North of Ireland and the potential for the peace process in the coming months.

Speaking prior to delivering her speech Ms de Brún said:

"Throughout the summer months there has been a sectarian onslaught against vulnerable catholic and nationalist homes. Bricks, gunfire, petrol bomb and pipe bomb attacks on catholic homes, schools and churches have been an ever-present reality for many isolated nationalist communities. Residents feel vulnerable and powerless in the face of Unionist paramilitary intimidation. They feel angry at the incompetence and inaction of the PSNI, and the relative silence and inaction of unionist political representatives.

"In light of Ian Paisley's comments yesterday, I am challenging my fellow MEP Jim Allister to translate these words into action and to stand shoulder to shoulder with his constituents in North Antrim, Dunmurry, Ardoyne and the Short Strand. I am prepared to meet with Mr Allister to discuss a cross community response to these attacks. It is time for the DUP to stop burying their heads in the sand.""


"All Ireland Task Force Required to Combat Suicide" - de Brún

A press release from SF reports that: "Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today called for the immediate establishment of an all Ireland taskforce to help combat suicide on the island. Ms de Brún said that such a joined up approach could help 'alleviate the numbers of people who either self-harm or take their own lives every year'. The former Assembly Health Minister made her comments after the announcement that the Health Service Executive in the 26 Counties is preparing to establish a 'national office' to help reduce the numbers of people taking their own lives every year." More here
Speaking from Strasbourg today Ms de Brún said:

"I want to welcome the establishment of an agency in the 26 Counties to help co-ordinate the work of the suicide prevention services. The fact that suicide accounts for more deaths than traffic related deaths must stir the relevant services into immediate action.

"In parts of my own constituency, suicide levels have steadily increased, particularly amongst young people. Much more resources are required if we are to effectively combat this growing trend. Resources must be targeted toward community initiatives and groups on the ground who have a wealth of first hand experience in dealing with this issue. Many families of those who have taken their own lives rightly feel let down by the authorities and the fact remains that mental health services north and south remain grossly under-funded.

"Co-ordination, the pooling of resources and a single centre for education and training is not only common sense, but essential on an island of 5 million people. There is a particular concern in border areas that two sets of suicide prevention services has lead to unnecessary duplication.

"I want to reiterate the calls made by Gerry Adams some months ago, that suicide prevention should become an area of co-operation under the Good Friday Agreement and that the Ministers with responsibility in both parts of this island meet to agree, and promote a strategic approach to suicide prevention across the entire island. Such a joined up approach could help alleviate the numbers of people who either self-harm or take their own lives every year."


Opportunity Europe at Saint George's Market

Building on the success of last year’s New Europe New Faces exhibition, which was arranged by a number of organisations including the Belfast City Council, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), British Council and the European Commission, another exciting two-day fair is being planned this year called Opportunity Europe. This year’s two–day exhibition and fair, which also has the support of the Education and Library Boards, will take place at St George’s Market in Belfast on Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 October. The fair aims to highlight opportunities in Europe and connections in Northern Ireland, particularly for young people, in business, work, education and leisure. The fair will include language tasters, exhibition stands and many other activities, all aiming to raise awareness of these opportunities. More information can be obtained at


Sunday, September 04, 2005

SDLP Builds links with FF on European Affairs

The Sunday Business Post reports that "several of the SDLP's members of the Northern assembly will attend the Fianna Fail ‘think-in' and will meet party MEPs Sean O Neachtain, Eoin Ryan, Liam Aylward and junior minister for Europe, Noel Treacy. The meeting will focus on closer cooperation between the two parties on matters relating to the European Union. The SDLP lost its only MEP when John Hume retired although, partly through Hume's influence, European peace funding continues to flow into the North. The presence of the SDLP delegation is evidence of growing links between the two part i e s . There have been suggestions in recent years about a merger between the two in the North and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that he would like to see Fianna Fail having a 32-county presence."


A Portrait of Mary Lou McDonald

Under the title Elusive Mary, the Sunday Business Post paints a portrait of SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald. There is very little about McDonald's views on the EU, but we learn some interesting facts about the SF MEP. For example, the article starts with the difficulty to access Mrs McDonald and notes that " the notion that one of the party's brightest stars is not in charge of her own media destiny is difficult to swallow." On the issue of speaking rights in the Dail, an issue that McDonald seems to be commited to continue to press, the journalist has some interesting comments: "Sinn Fein acknowledged last month that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was correct and that Adams was wrong on the issue of MPs and MEPs from the North having speaking rights in the Dail. Following remarks by Adams, Ahern said there had been “much exaggerated comment'‘ on the issue. What the government had in mind, he said, was much more modest than a right to speak in the Dail, such as the right to address Dail committees. Despite clearly overplaying its hand, Sinn Fein plans to continue to seek Dail speaking rights. McDonald said this right was being claimed for MPs from all political parties, not in an attempt to secure special rights for republican representatives. “Some commentators and some people who are hostile to this notion developed whether deliberately or otherwise a very overblown sense of what was being talked about, for their own political reasons.”"


Nicholson Opposes "Sunshine" Directive

UUP MEP criticised Commission's draft directive on the protection of workers from potentially harmful optical radiation. Under its agenda of promoting more socially responsible behaviour by companies on workplace issues, the European Commission has presented a package of directives on the protection of workers from certain physical agents. While the directives on protection from noise, vibrations and electromagnetic fields have already been passed, a draft directive on the protection of workers from potentially harmful optical radiation, under consideration since 1992, will be voted by Parliament in second reading on 6 September 2005. However, Mr Nicholson reacted in these terms: "the directive raises the prospect of fully clothed lifeguards in open-air swimming pools. Builders and barmaids would be forced to cover up as their bosses make 'sunlight risk assessments' every day. Cricketers could even be forced to interrupt the game and pull on long sleeved shirts when the sun comes out - and example of good light stopped play?" According to the European Commission Representation in the UK: "new EU rules on optical radiation, due to be voted on by ministers and MEPS (including those from the UK) in September 2005, do not tell people what they can wear, or ban low-cut tops or, heaven forbid, dirndls. They instead require bosses to assess the risk of skin and retina damage for employees who work in the sun all day. This is a pressing concern, given that in the UK alone there 69,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year. How the risk to employees will be assessed, and what measures should be taken if there is deemed to be one, will be decided at local level – in the UK by the Health and Safety Executive. Of course, bar managers can always use their common sense by handing out sun cream."


Friday, September 02, 2005

Decision on Slurry Tanks Welcomed

SF and DUP have welcomed the decision by Lord Rooker to allow the construction of additional storage capacity not requiring planning permission. DUP MEP Jim Allister said: "the relaxation of the planning rules will save money, time and reduce paper work associated with the construction of larger tanks. I hope that the change to planning will encourage many other farmers to use the scheme available". SF MP MLA Michelle Gildernew hoped that "given the current severe financial hardship that many farmers are facing, this decision should help farmers clarify whether they will commit scarce resources to waste management." Ulster Unionist Agriculture spokesperson Tom Elliott has also welcomed Environment Minister Jeff Rooker’s decision to double the maximum ground area for slurry storage as it takes "full and proper account of the realistic concerns of the farming community".


Bertie Ahern defends the CAP

In a speech, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has yesterday defended the CAP: "I believe that calls for CAP reform are misplaced; they are based on a misunderstanding of the role of the CAP in European society and the world economy; they are based on a false premise about the relative cost of the CAP; they ignore WTO realities, and were they to be acted on they would involve breaches of existing agreements."


Thursday, September 01, 2005

McDonald "copy-and-paste" Statement over Turkey's entry in the EU

SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald reiterated her statement, today, that Turkey should become an EU Member State when Turkey will have "fulfilled the 'Copenhagen Criteria' on democracy and respect for human rights." The statement seems to be a "copy-and-paste" one from 6 October 2004.


Nicholson in Tesco Protest

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson joined a protest against Tesco, Farming Life reports: "FFA, NBA, NIAPA and UFU members were out in force last Thursday night at Tesco's distribution centre on Boucher Road, Belfast to step up pressure over Tesco's continued importation of Brazilian beef. The protest was joined by NBA chief John Carson and Jim Nicholson MEP, who gave out information leaflets to Tesco lorry drivers leaving the centre with deliveries."


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An end to immunity for cross-border drivers?

Daily Ireland reports that "Irish transport minister Martin Cullen yesterday signalled an end to the split personality of Irish motorists when he revealed he had asked the European Commission to expedite a European Union-wide penalty system for our roads. One hopes the commission responds speedily to Mr Cullen’s entreaties but surely also needed on this small island is one set of speed limits and one set of penalties." The Irish Independent has also published figures which shows that "42,000 drivers have escaped penalty points even though they were caught without insurance, driving carelessly, speeding or for seat belt offences."


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

RoI "is getting away with flagrant breach of its responsibilities" - Allister

A press release from DUP MEP Jim Allister reports that Mr Allister: "raised with the EU Commission at the Fisheries Committee in Brussels, the failure of the Republic of Ireland to honour its obligations under Council Regulation EC 1447/1999 to make full and proper returns about how it has dealt with infringements of fishing policy regulations." More Here

"The 1999 Regulation requires each state to report on the number of infringements detected and the penalties imposed. The latest figures show the UK top the list of fines, with an average penalty of 78,000 Euro per infringement, whereas most countries' average is in hundreds of euros, while the Republic of Ireland hasn't bothered to make returns as to any fines imposed.

Mr Allister said:
"The perception in my country, the UK, is that our government is assiduous, to the point of being fanatical, about imposing EU Regulations, while others happily ignore their obligations. These figures seem to bear out this perception. In the fishery sector we have to compete with others, yet we find that our nearest neighbour is getting away with flagrant breach of its responsibilities, fuelling a belief that while our fishermen play by the rules others have the advantage of flouting the rules. It is up to the Commission to demonstrate that it will not tolerate such a situation. I am, therefore, looking for appropriate infringement proceedings against the offending countries. All must be equal before EU law and all equally subject to it."
In response the Commission representative indicated infringement proceedings were indeed an option being examined and more information should emerge in due course."


Non access to Aircoach buses at the Europa station: anti competitive under EU legislation?

The Belfast Telegraph reports that a row has erupted between Translink and Aircoach over the right to use the Europa bus station. The two companies are in competitions over the Belfast-Dublin Airport route: "at present Aircoach, which launched its service last summer, operates from outside Jury's Inn at Fisherwick Place, but its buses are often hampered by traffic congestion. Marc Reddy, the Aircoach managing director, said they had first asked for access to Europa Buscentre in March, but that their "many requests" had not met with a favourable response. "We believe this could be viewed as anti-competitive under EU legislation, particularly as other bus and coach operators are allowed into this facility. It is a disappointing position, particularly that the passenger is suffering most in having to wait on the street, and we hope that it will be resolved. We believe in encouraging the use of public transport, rather than making obstacles for customers."


Monday, August 29, 2005

Irish Government Plans to Join EU Battle Group

Ian Kehoe from the Sunday Business Post reports that: "After months of vacillating, the Minister for Defence, Willie O'Dea, expects to bring proposals for Irish involvement in so-called EU battle groups to the cabinet within the next five weeks. If passed, the move could see Irish troops participating in an EU rapid reaction force within two years. Irish participation in the battle groups, which involve soldiers from a number of countries working together as a cohesive military unit, have been shrouded in controversy from the beginning. Critics have argued that it runs contrary to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality. Even the government has admitted that certain legal obstacles will have to be overcome." Kehoe also quotes an Irish defence official who said in relation to the forthcoming difficulties to convince the Irish that Ireland will remain a neutral state: “make no bones about it - that will be our biggest difficulty... there is an emotional attachment to neutrality that if almost hard to comprehend.”


"EU Constitutional Treaty on track for debate" - Noel Treacy

As spotted by United Irelander, Mr. Noel Treacy, T.D., Minister for European Affair has recently stated that: "The holidays are drawing to a close. In other circumstances we might now be locked in a heated debate on a referendum to determine whether Ireland should ratify the European Constitution, but that is not to be this year. One could be tempted to draw relief at that, frankly I am very disappointed. Following the rejection of the Constitution in France and the Netherlands, the European Council paused the ratification process in order to give time for reflection, and is set to revisit it during the Austrian Presidency : we welcomed that decision. The Government remains committed to the Constitution and to using this year to engage the public on the issue of Europe...It is salutary that the product of an exercise involving so much effort and care has been rejected in two referendums. That has led to calls for a debate on the future of Europe, but we should not forget that the process leading to the Constitution itself began with similar calls, reflected in the declarations of Nice and Laeken. Nor should we forget that Spain and Luxembourg approved the Constitution by referendum as have the Parliaments of eleven further member states. The point of this is that we should not deceive ourselves about the likely outcomes of launching new processes. Let's focus on what we might achieve, starting with improving the basis for discussion and debate."


SF MEP on Sectarian Violence

Speaking from Ballymena and commenting on the upsurge of sectarian violence, SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald said last Wednesday: "it is very clear from my meetings today that there is an orchestrated effort being made to drive Catholics and nationalists out of certain areas in North Antrim. This is completely unacceptable. It is also clear that local nationalists feel that a climate has been created by the actions of local unionist politicians which has directly fed into the environment in which this campaign has flourished." These comments were criticized by the UUP East Belfast MLA Alderman Michael Copeland: "It is clear from Ms McDonald'’s comments that she completely oblivious to the reality on the ground in these areas."


CAP Watch

The Financial Times reports that the CAP reform will be closely scrutinized in Northern Ireland: "Farming is vital to its economy, accounting for 6-8 per cent of the economic activity compared with about 1 per cent for England and Wales. In spite of the changes in land use and the growing mechanisation of most processes, the sector is still a big employer, with 15,000 full- time farmers or 80,000 when those in the food processing industries are included." In the meantime, DUP MEP Jim Allister complains on the EU Commission plan to restrict the fishing of wild eels which, he argues, would hardly hist fishermen from Lough Neagh and the River Bann. More here

Here is the full communique from Jim Allister:

Brussels, having brought ruination to much of our sea fishing industry in Northern Ireland, is now turning its attention to the eel fishing industry, in which Northern Ireland occupies a key niche position.

The Commission has proposals to introduce a management plan for eels involving a stock recovery scheme which could involve severe restrictions on eel fishing rights. The Commission is considering a fishing ban in certain areas, minimum landing sizes and closed seasons. The proposals were debated today in the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament. I took the opportunity to stress the importance of our well-managed eel fishery based on Lough Neagh, both to the economy of that part of Northern Ireland (with 200 livelihoods involved) and to Europe as a whole to whom we export much of our catch.

Lough Neagh and the Lower River Bann supports the largest remaining commercial wild eel fishery in Europe. It produces 25% of the total recorded EU wild catch. I stressed the dangers to our self-regulated industry of a typical "one size fits all" Brussels approach, by pointing out that under the management of the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Cooperative Society there are already in place adequate conservation measures, including enforced daily quotas for each boat, a licensing system and escape routes at Kilrea and Toome weirs whereby at least 40% of the migrating mature silver eels escape out to sea for spawning. Thus, I argued to the Committee that, whatever the needs elsewhere for restriction, within Northern Ireland there is no justification for such draconian measures. Instead, the Commission should be focusing upon banning the sale of elvers out of Europe to the Far East as thereby they are lost forever to the European industry and, secondly, restrictions should be focused upon the eel farm sector where there is no escape of large eels, so that they can spawn and replenish the natural stock.

Notes to editors:

1. Eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea in the Western Central Atlantic Ocean. The larvae drift and swim into river mouths all over Europe and Northern Africa, from where they migrate upstream to spend most of their lives. Eventually the oldest eels will migrate downstream and across the Atlantic when they will spawn once and die.

2. The smallest eels (glass eels and elvers) are fished for stocking and on-growing in aquaculture, whilst older eels (brown eels and silver eels) are fished directly for food. Most are exported to Europe as part of a £5 million industry.

3. Lough Neagh and the Lower River Bann support the largest remaining wild eel fishery in Europe. The system produces 25% of the total recorded EU wild catch.

4. Fishing rights to all eel life stages are owned by the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Cooperative Society (LNFCS). The fishery is well managed and restricts annual catch of brown eels to 400-500 T and the catch of silver eels to 100-150 T. The escape of silver eels for spawning is at least equivalent to the catch because of the maintenance of a generous gap at the weirs where fishing is prohibited and thereby escape for spawning is guaranteed.

5. The Lough Neagh operation supports up to 150 boats each with a crew of two men and thus some 300 families may derive and depend on income from the fishery.

6. As natural decline in the recruitment of elvers to the Lough has been observed, the LNFCS has purchased 73 million glass eels for stocking purposes over the last 20 years and, at the same time, has regulated its industry through licensing and quota imposition.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

UUP wants quotas for Non-UK students

UUP East Antrim Assembly Member Ken Robinson MLA is urging Universities to impose quotas on non-UK students: "Reports suggest that top Universities are turning away up to 16 candidates for every place available on popular courses. This scramble for places, which will intensify now that the A-level results have been announced, follows a rush by prospective students to avoid paying top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year from next September. Nationally, applications have risen by 8.2 per cent but in some universities this figure has been as high as 29 per cent...It would be interesting to establish the ratio of UK students being educated in EU Universities to the number of EU students being educated in UK Universities. I believe this may well show that there is little reciprocation in European Universities compared to the number of EU students we educate I the UK. That is mainly because people want to be educated in the UK in English with UK degrees since English is one of the world’s leading languages and certainly he world’s number one business language...The time has surely come for some sort of Quota or more balanced system to be devised for EU and non-EU students at UK Universities. There is a lot of talk about how much Universities raise from non-public sources. However, the vast bulk of their income still comes from the taxpayer and the UK taxpayer wants our school leavers given priority in the quest for University places."


Allister is Planning to Challenge the Programme "Active European Citizenship"

DUP MEP Jim Allister is planning to question the programme "Promotion of Active European Citizenship" at the European Parliament: "The European Commission'’s unending quest to ever expand Brussels'’ control and power, with no regard to cost or need, is well illustrated by a current proposal to vastly expand a programme going under the title, "promoting active European citizenship." This programme was launched for 3 years at the start of 2004. In consequence of misgivings, not least by the UK, the Commission gave an undertaking that an external evaluation of the worth of the programme would be produced if there was a proposal to extend it beyond 2006. Now just such a proposal has been made, but the assurance of an external evaluation has been breached. Brussels now wants to greatly expand the programme and extend it to 2013. Its overtly political purpose, which dovetails with the attempts to foist an EU Constitution upon us, is clear from its two key objectives of forming an ever closer Europe” and forging a European identity. In order to bring some accountability to the Commission'’s actions, I have tabled the Questions below in the European Parliament for answer by the Commission.I also welcome the fact that the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons has declared itself unhappy with these developments and has called for answers from the Government."

More here

"Subject: Promotion of active European citizenship

In connection with the proposal to enhance and extend the current European citizenship programme beyond its initial expiry date of 31 December 2006, is it correct that the Commission gave an assurance to the UK Government that an external evaluation, including value for money, would be produced alongside any proposal to renew the programme after 2006? If so, has that evaluation been produced and if not, why not? How can the Commission justify proposing a greatly expanded programme without producing an evaluation of the existing one and without evidence concerning the effectiveness of the expenditure proposed?"

Subject: Legal basis for proposed expansion of active European citizenship

In light of the limitation of Article 308 of the EC Treaty to measures related to “the operation of the common market”, what legal basis is relied upon to justify the current proposal to enhance and extend the current European citizenship programme beyond its initial expiry date of 31 December 2006?"


SF MEP Urges the DUP to act over Sectarian Violence

After visiting Ahoghill, Ballymena, Rasharkin and the Short Strand, SF MEP Mary Lou McDonald said: "It is also clear that local nationalists feel that a climate has been created by the actions of local unionist politicians which has directly fed into the environment in which this campaign has flourished. For decades Catholics and nationalists in areas like North Antrim have been discriminated against at every level. It is now clear that nationalists simply won't stand for this any longer and the DUP in particular in this area need to wake up to that reality. The DUP sit on the various Forums and Commissions with the leaderships of the UDA and UVF. From the Third Force to Ulster Resistance the DUP have been directly linked to violent unionism. No nationalist believes that the DUP do not have influence with unionist paramilitaries and no nationalist believes that they cannot put pressure on to have this campaign ended if that is what they actually want. It would also serve those politicians in the 26 counties well if they travelled here to North Antrim or to the Short Strand to see exactly where the threat to the peace process comes from. It does not come from the Colombia Three returning home, or any republican activity as they would have people believe. It comes from the unionist paramilitaries and the failure of the unionist parties to tackle this issue head on."


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Nicholson Welcomes lift on UK Beef Export Ban

In a statement Mr Nicholson said, “This has been a long road with many false dawns but now it would appear to be more positive. We can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we can look forward to the end of the OTMS scheme which has been in existence since BSE hit the UK, although it may have to remain in a limited form to cull animals born before 1996 which can never enter the food chain. The current hope is this can begin in November but we should not be surprised if there is a slight delay on this date from past experience. The lifting of the ban, while welcome, should not lead to any euphoria on the part of farmers. It will be a help but I believe the road back will be long and hard as others now have the markets we once held. At least we can now hope to put this most unpleasant and difficult time behind us.”


NI Parties Attempt to Seduce EU Migrant Workers

The Newsletter reports that SF is trying to attract votes from migrant workers in the Newry area. "I passed a house recently where about 50 were having a party and, as they are mostly Catholic, they are more sympathetic to the nationalist outlook" said Sinn Fein MLA for Newry and Armagh, Davy Hyland. It is estimated that there are 20.000 migrant workers in Northern Ireland. According to Patrick Yu, of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities, migrant workers from EU eastern European accession countries can only vote if they can secure work contracts of 12 months or longer, which employers are not likely to give at present. However, the Newsletter does not say which elections Mr Yu is refering to. Under the current regulations, any EU citizens residing in Northern Ireland is allowed to vote for local councils votes and MEP elections. This reminds me of UUP Michael McGimpsey on the multicultural aspect of NI society (11/07/05): "Northern Ireland is a multi-cultural society. That is a fact. We may not always perceive ourselves to be so, although the evidence is all around us if we care to look. We may not be a great metropolis in the manner of London or New York, but we are on a much smaller scale a society of varying and rich cultures. "