“This is a short story about my work, and how I spend my time in Brussels and Strasbourg. I’ve attempted to keep it as jargon free as possible”
I have found that each MEP approaches his or her work in a way that suits their personality and their background. This is certainly true for me. As a former mental health professional, I am very interested in public health issues and have made this the focus of my committee work in Brussels. As I am not known for my love of making long and frequent speeches, I prefer instead to bring people together, to host meetings where other people speak and allow me and others to learn. To this end I organise or host seminars and events in Dublin and Brussels around a wide range of issues, but mostly in the areas of public health and transparency in public life.
But at a very practical level the defining feature of our work is the travel, and as a consequence travel logistics are never far from my mind. The average week involves leaving Dublin on Monday and returning home on Thursday. Then once a month MEPs and supporting staff move to Strasbourg where we meet in plenary. Because of the time and cost involved, this monthly migration is deeply unpopular, and I am a enthusiastic supporter of the Single Seat Campaign.
What does an MEP do?
MEPs are legislators, and along with the Council of the European Union we are responsible for what’s called co-decision making in a wide area of EU policy and agreeing the EU budget. We can also table questions to the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
To do its work the parliament is organised around political groups. These are not based on nationality but instead by political outlook. I am an independent, non-party, member of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) the second largest group in the parliament with 189 members.
The political groups meet one week a month prior to the full plenary in Strasbourg. At these group meetings we debate current political issues and agree voting strategy. I usually vote with my group, and when necessary I will take my own independent stance. This can be controversial in unexpected ways, which was evident when recently I voted for strong tax justice measures which no other Irish MEP supported.
Another feature of our work is that Irish MEPs are invited to meet Ministers when they visit Brussels or Strasbourg, and we receive regular briefings from officials in the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the European Union. These meetings allow the government to brief us on their approach to current EU legislation. But an MEP has a completely separate mandate to the Irish government as our work affects all citizens in the EU – not just Irish people. I believe keeping this balance is very important.
While an MEP votes on all legislation at the plenary session in Strasbourg, each MEP carries out their core work through committee membership. This is where an MEP can influence or shape EU policy through writing reports and tabling amendments to other MEP’s dossiers. My committee is the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee (ENVI), and in an average week you can find me attending a voting session, or an S&D working group to plan our work on the Environment committee.
I am also a substitute member of five other committees which I’ve listed at the end of this article.
Because I am a member of a large S&D group in the Environment committee – 18 members in total – there is a lot of competition for these dossiers. But nevertheless since I was first elected in 2009, I have helped shape EU policy in many areas such as Alzheimer’s, disabilities, cancer, obesity, HIV/AIDS, and food labelling. I also authored the recent ENVI report on a code of conduct for MEPs. For more details please follow this link – My Record.
Alongside this work, in Dublin and in the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg, I meet a wide range of representatives from civil society groups, and accept invitations to speak at many events. The details of which are carefully logged in my Transparency Diary on this website.
I also make representations and ask questions of the European Commission, and work with my assistants who handle what’s called ‘case work’. This usually involves raising non-compliance issues with the European Commission or tabling questions with the Commission regarding pressing political concerns – for example I have tabled a number of questions regarding EU law in relation to domestic water charges in Ireland.
To give meaning to my work, and to keep me in touch with my constituents I organise events in Dublin. Then during the working week in Brussels I often host information events in the parliament. These are usually, but not exclusively, concerned with health policy issues. Because of my interest in these areas I am co-chair of three groups: The European Parliament’s Mental Health interest group, MEPs against Cancer, and the European Alzheimer’s Alliance. At these round table meetings or seminars, we bring together patient organisations, academics, industry representatives and other MEPs to debate current issues and legislation.
These activities are communicated through my social media pages, and media releases posted on my website.
Before I finish I want to mention another frequently asked question – which is about our salaries and expenses payments. MEPs salaries are paid by the parliament, and we pay taxes in both Brussels and in our member state. Actual travel costs are reimbursed, and we get what’s called a ‘per-diem’ payment to cover accommodation and other expenses for each day we attend parliament. See this page for a full breakdown of these monies.
For more information
Substitute Committee Memberships
• Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs
• FEMM Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
• TAX2Special Committee on Tax Rulings and Other Measures Similar in Nature or Effect (TAXE 2)
• PANA Committee of Inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application of Union law in relation to money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion
• DEEA Delegation for relations with Switzerland and Norway and to the EU-Iceland Joint Parliamentary Committee and the European Economic Area (EEA) Joint Parliamentary Committee