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Colm Burke MEP: 2009 European elections interview

Appointed to replace Simon Coveney in 2007, Fine Gael appear not to rate his chances this time out

Colm Burke from Cork was appointed as MEP for the Ireland South con­stituency in 2007, replacing Simon Coveney, who had been re-elected as a TD. A solicitor, he is married to a doctor and fortunately is passionate about health. His website suggests his preoccupation is with local rather than European issues, though he has taken unexciting positions on a full range of issues including retraining and jobs; and overseas aid. Fine Gael appear not to rate his chances of reelection as they have imposed former GAA President Sean Kelly on the ticket.


What do you think is the role of an MEP?

To protect Irish interests and make sure that regulation or legislation does not adversely affect Ireland. Also, to make sure that you can push forward with new ideas assisting Ireland and all of Europe.

How does the official role of an MEP differ from that of other politicians?

My official role is to go and do the work I’m appointed to do – making sure I watch the regulations going through, watch the directives, but am also to the forefront in developing policies from a European point of view.

How would you describe your politics?

I’m about fairness, making sure that there’s a level playing field for everyone regardless of their financial position or their income. That’s one of the things that I’ve always been working for.

How have you used your role as an MEP?

I’ve been involved in a number of key areas over the last few months. One has been in relation to cross-border health­care. I was appointed by my own party to monitor this and act as Rapporteur to the Internal Market Committee. My lead committee is in the Foreign Affairs Com­mittee. Last year in March, not long after the rebel offensive in Chad, I went out there of my own initiative. I went down to the border, did over 26 meetings in six days, prepared a report for the Parlia­ment and filed it with the foreign affairs committee. Recently, I was in Gaza, in order to see for myself the issues that need to be dealt with. I’m not happy with the way we’re approaching it. Palestine as an entity will not exist in ten years time if the current policy continues.

The other issue I’ve raised is the loss of jobs in Dell in Limerick. The day that was announced, I went to the Commission. We identi­fied the European Globali­sation Adjustment Fund, a €500m fund set up to assist areas that had lost 1,000 or more jobs. The commission eventu­ally acknowledged that, if there was an application made, Ireland would get favourable consideration for funding to retrain people who have lost their jobs and assist people who might wish to set up their own company.

Jobs for the boys No

Lisbon Not clear

Cowen Lacking

Funny? Not sure

Can you tell us your total claimed ex­penses since becoming an MEP?

We’re putting the details up on our website.

Is that a reasonable figure and why so?

Yes. I’ve employed four people: there’s about €180,000 allocated to salaries. I employ the staff myself, but there’s an accountant appointed independently. In relation to the office, we service 12 con­stituencies. We do not have free post: if I went to send a letter to all the Fine Gael members in Ireland South, it would cost me €4,500. There are very valid figures there for any expenses that I draw.

Is the European Parliament directly or indirectly employing or paying for relatives of yours to do work on your behalf?


Are you happy with the voting group with which you or your political party is allied?

Yes, absolutely. It’s the biggest group, the most powerful group. You have huge influence on policy.

What do you think about the Lisbon treaty?

My position is clear on that: We have to get the Irish people to look at it, we have to get all the information out on it, and we have to come to a decision on it. There was a lot of disinformation out on it last time, and people were right to say no if they were unsure what they were voting for.

What do you think about Brian Cowen’s performance?

It hasn’t been help­ful to Ireland as an economy. Ireland is unsure of its position in Europe, it has a Government which is unsure of the situation in relation to financial management, and it has a government which lacks leadership.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’ve done a huge amount of work in two years. I’ve made more contributions to the European Parliament in two years than Mary Lou McDonald has made in five.

Tell us a joke.

[laughs] I’m not into that area. One of my campaign slogans is ‘serious time, serious candidate’.