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European Elections: Billy Kelleher – Fianna Fáil

Writes Ciaran Dineen

In just a few days the people of Ireland South will be asked to choose who they want to be represented by in the 2019 European Elections. One of the candidates who is seeking election on Friday 24th May is Cork’s own, Billy Kelleher. A few weeks ago, on his campaign trail, Billy visited Carrigaline and joined us in The Carrigdhoun Office for a chat as to why he believes he should represent Ireland South in the European Parliament.

For some time now Billy Kelleher’s intentions to run for this week’s European Elections have been well known. The Cork North-Central TD is a veteran of Irish parliamentary politics, having first entered the Seanad in 1993, and then going on to win a seat to Dáil Éireann, where he has sat since the 1997 General Elections.

During his time in office, the ‘Corkman’ has been Minister of State for Trade and Commerce, Minister of State for Labour Affairs and also previously supported the Government Chief Whip as assistant. Billy grew up on the north-side of Cork and went to school in Carrignavar and from there went on to Agricultural College Pallaskenrey in County Limerick. 

While the farmer is still one of the main protagonists for the Fianna Fail party in the Dáil, he has decided to seek a European seat, putting himself forward as an Ireland South candidate. Although Billy himself was very keen on making the European transition, his party leader wasn’t as he did not want sitting TDs to leave their national constituency seats.

Although he wasn’t initially chosen at the selection convention, Billy was added to the Ireland South ticket in late March of this year and will now stand alongside Malcom Byrne (Wexford) on May 24th, seeking your vote. 

On Making the Move from the Dáil to Brussels:

As previously mentioned, Mr. Kelleher is a well-established sitting TD in Cork-North Central, an area where he has been elected and re-elected on every occasion. While he is very popular in his constituency, Billy wants to move further afield and embrace new challenges in Europe.

“Europe is very important”, the Cork TD tells The Carrigdhoun. “Especially in the context of policies that are going to affect people’s lives here in Ireland, we see Brexit and the importance of Europe. Equally across many sectors of Irish economic and social life, Europe has an impact. In education, the environment, agriculture, investment and infrastructure, quite a substantial amount of support both in terms of policy and access to funding comes from the European Union, so for that reason I think it’s very important to have a strong voice out there. I think I have the right experience, nearly 25 years in the Dáil and Minister of State for a number of years, so I believe that I can bring that experience from Ireland to Europe and bring that European funding back into the constituencies here in Cork and the rest of Ireland South.” 

On Preparing Cork For The Future And What Type Of Europe We Want To See:

Billy recognises that Cork in particular will need significant investment in the future if it is expected to meet the demands laid out in the plans from ‘Ireland 2040’, where the population is expected to increase by between 100,000 – 150,000. As a result, it is crucial that Cork receives major funding for transport and infrastructure, something the European candidate agrees with.

“I don’t believe that by supporting one community you need to diminish the opportunities for another so we need to look at the Munster region; Cork and Limerick, and also look to Galway, so that we can make a counterbalance in the West to Belfast and Dublin in the East. It is slow in taking shape and it needs policy direction, so we need to see the road between Limerick and Cork completed, we need to see continuous investment in our third-level education and to ensure that we have the capacity to increase the population so that we can attract inward investment and help our indigenous industries here as well.” 

While Brexit may be creating some troubling and testing times for the EU’s top bureaucrats, Ireland’s will to remain part of the EU has never been stronger. According to the Cork TD the next question is what type of Europe do Irish people want to see.

“I think the EU is very popular in Ireland so we need to look at what type of Europe do we want to be a part of. I believe that a Europe that is fair and equal, with social mobility. One that addresses social challenges and economic difficulties in certain regions. We also must consider what form of Europe will we see in the future. Is it a nation of communities? Or is it a community of nations? In other words, will it be more federalised and institutionalised. My own view is that integration can promote difficulties so I would be in favour of a community of nations, where nationhood is still there and respected, but at the same time we need close co-operation and solidarity amongst nations.”

On Representing All Of Ireland South And Informing Citizens:

In the 2019 European Parliament elections Ireland South will be gaining two additional counties that will now come under their constituency, these being Laois and Offaly. That now means that Ireland South incorporates 11 counties in total, creating a huge geographical area for MEPs to represent. This can pose a challenge to elected members, who may find it difficult to allocate enough time to every county.

Speaking about this Billy says, “I’ve always cared deeply about being a good representative, ever since I was first elected. The relationship between the public representative and the constituents is a very intimate one and it must be supported and protected. From that perspective I would try and ensure that I have a strong visibility throughout the area and I have already spoken with my party on making sure that Europe is seen to be part of every day life and that means that MEPs have to be very proactive in supporting EU initiatives, accessing funding for local authorities and being available to advocacy and interest groups across the constituency.” 

The Cork TD is critical of political institutions both home and abroad for not making citizens aware of the importance of Europe and the EU in Irish affairs and says that he wants to help change that.

“I think it’s been one of the failings of the European Union and our own national governments in the sense that there is that break where Europe is seen as being distant. National governments use the EU as a scapegoat for unpopular policies and if there are policies coming from Europe that are popular then national governments take the credit for them. For me that undermines the European Union, so my main theme is bringing communities to Europe and Europe to communities, in other words advocating for communities in Europe and then bringing support through investment and policy initiatives back to those same communities in Ireland”. 

Billy will appear on the ballot paper on Friday 24th May alongside over 20 other potential European candidates. Due to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, Ireland South will receive an additional seat for these elections, increasing from 4 to 5. However, until the UK officially leaves the EU, the 5th elected MEP will not take their seat.

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