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."