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🇮🇪 The defence of progressive values leads a new MEP to step up to the mark


Chairperson of the International Affairs Unit in the Irish Labour Party and sits on the committee of the Dublin P&PR branch of the National Union of Journalists.

The defence of progressive values leads a new MEP to step up to the mark

By David Kitching

Ireland’s major advances in social progress are now challenged by a new and insurgent far right, at local, national and EU level. The reaction of other parties will be decisive, and they will need to be courageous in defending values of equality and democracy. Progressives need to get organised.

Was this a European election or still the second-order election?

European elections still remain a second-order contest in Ireland, with a turnout of 51 per cent compared to almost 63 per cent in the general election in 2020. European and local elections are run on the same day, and voters face an unusual intermingling of local, national and European competences during debates.  

During previous elections, debates focused on the leaders of larger member states as the leading players. This has evolved somewhat in the 2024 election, with an enhanced focus on EU institutions. Given the outsized effect of Brexit on Ireland, the European Commission’s leadership in negotiating a settlement has enhanced its credibility amongst the general public here. However, Ursula von der Leyen’s name came up regularly during debates, and usually for negative reasons. Still, her unpopularity appears not to have hurt Fine Gael (EPP) to any significant degree. 

In addition, there has been a notable improvement in the quality of EU correspondents in Irish media outlets, helping to advance the overall understanding of EU politics and scrutiny of MEPs. 

What were the main issues of the campaign?

The stand-out issues of this campaign were migration, climate action and housing. For the first time in Ireland, migration has become a hot issue, and the country faces an insurgent far right. Like elsewhere, Ireland has seen an increase in people seeking sanctuary, whether from war, climate disaster or other reasons. This has not led to a significant backlash in the past. However, it coincides with a shortage of housing and social services in the post-austerity era, driving grievances which culminated in shocking riots in Dublin in November 2023. Some agitators have used this to build a political platform.  

Similarly, climate action has become a core culture war, with groups emerging that are sceptical of the Nature Restoration Law and the European Green Deal. The new party Independent Ireland has quickly built a foothold drawing inspiration from the Farmer-Citizen Movement in the Netherlands, while also appropriating some anti-immigrant sentiment.

While not an EU competence, housing has increasingly become part of the discussion. The Labour Party has pointed to the use of state aid spending rules to undermine local authorities’ provision of social housing. The party has latched onto the proposals by S&D Group leader Iratxe Garcia that housing should be made an EU competence. 

What was the result of the Social Democrats and why? 

For the first time in ten years, the Irish Labour Party will have an MEP in the S&D Group. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has been a high-profile member of the national parliament and previously served as a minister of State in several departments including Health; Justice and Equality; and, Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. He emerged as a candidate following the Dublin riots, wanting to defend values of inclusivity and equality against a rising tide of far right politics in Europe. His campaign was clear and uncompromising in its positioning, which was in contrast to some of the larger parties whose messaging appropriated some reactionary elements. 

However, there is a challenge facing centre-left politics. In all three European constituencies, the Labour Party was in competition with another party, the Social Democrats, which was founded by former Labour members. Fighting for the same voters is proving increasingly counterproductive to have both parties and has weakened the overall social democratic offering.

The Green Party appears to have lost its two seats at the time of writing, while the Independent Ireland party (ECR) is likely to enter the European Parliament for the first time.

Was there any surprise?

The big surprise has been the poor performance of Sinn Féin. The party has been riding high in the polls for the past four years and looked like it might secure six of Ireland’s fourteen seats in the European Parliament. It will now win just two or three of those. 

Having positioned itself as a populist left party, Sinn Féin’s base was always an uncomfortable coalition of old-school nationalists and young progressives. However, the party has begun to appease anti-immigrant and reactionary sentiment amidst the increasingly fraught discourse on immigration. The mixed messaging has lost the party support on both the left and right.  

What does this election result mean for the EU?

This election means that Ireland joins the unfortunate club of member states with an active far right. However, it also marks the return of a genuinely progressive and values-focused Irish MEP to the S&D Group.

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