Lynn Boylan is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle and has been an active Sinn Féin member of the party for eight years. She has worked with Ballymun Global Action Plan as a community programme co-ordinator, running courses for people making the transition from the blocks of flats to houses. She contested the 2007 general election and the 2009 local election in South Kerry. Before she moved to Dublin, she coordinated voluntary camps to remove invasive rhododendron species from Killarney National Park in working for Groundwork, an environmental organisation affiliated to the Irish Wildlife Trust which was set up to protect important Irish habitats. She notes “my background as an ecologist makes the environment an obvious choice for me”. The environment is, alongside employment and workers’ rights and social equality, one of her priorities if elected as an MEP.
In 2010 she was appointed chairperson of the Safefood Advisory Board one of the Good Friday Agreement All Ireland bodies, which promotes cooperation over nutrition and food safety.
Unsurprisingly, she takes a critical perspective on what is going on at European Union level. She suggests, “Currently the European Union is in crisis, not just an economic crisis but also a social and a political crisis”.
“Since Jose Manuel Barroso became President of the European Commission we have seen a neo-liberal agenda that puts the interests of the single market before the interests of the people. This agenda has received broad support from both the European Council and the European Parliament”.
“The recession”, she says ,“ has highlighted the flaws of the European institutions when the response, backed up by the Member States, was to socialise the cost of the crisis. Banks were put before the people”.
She believes that “many MEPs choose to form part of the cosy consensus when they get to Brussels rather than holding the European Commission and European Council to account”. She refers to the need for MEPs “to be more transparent about any dealings they may have with lobbyists” and points out that “Sinn Féin supports the ‘Full EU Lobby Transparency Now’ campaign”.
She points to a “democratic deficit” that flows from the “design and operation of the EU institutions”. “Real reform of the institutions is required to address the democratic deficit”, she says and “that means reducing the power of unelected bodies, increasing transparency, and, crucially, increasing the role of elected institutions”. “Sinn Féin will campaign to reign in the European Commission and return powers to the Member States. We will also campaign to make the European Council more transparent and more accountable to both the European Parliament and Member State parliaments”.
Boylan highlights that “Sinn Fein believe in a European Union of equal sovereign states that co-operate on social and economic development”. She says that the party “believes another Europe is possible, one that is more democratic and people-centred, a European Union that promotes workers’ rights and public services”. “Sinn Féin’s agenda for the European Union”, she points out, “is one that puts social equality at the heart of all its decisions” and “we want an end to the failed policies of austerity and a definitive breaking of the link between sovereign debt and banking debt”.
She highlights that “The European Union has, in the past, been very important in requiring Member States to protect their environment, but Ireland has one of the worst track records in this area. As an MEP I would campaign to see stronger environmental legislation, particularly on issues such as GMOs and pesticides which can pose significant threats to biodiversity”.
“In terms of climate change” she adds “it is crucial that Europe takes a trans-national approach and I will continue the good work that Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin MEP in the North) and her predecessor, Bairbre De Brún, have done in demanding legally binding targets on curbing greenhouse gas emissions, opposing fracking, and looking for a real shift from reliance on carbon fuels to renewable energy sources”.
She is concerned that “since the start of the crisis the European Commission, with the strong influence of big business, has led the charge in the call for cuts to wages and working conditions for low- and middle-income earners. Many profitable companies have used the recession as an opportunity to drive down wages. The gap between high income earners and everyone else has widened. In Ireland we now have the fourth highest gap in the OECD”.
“As an MEP, I will campaign for decent work with living wages and an end to zero hour contracts. I would also campaign for the introduction of a social progress clause into EU Treaties to ensure that fundamental rights and collective agreements on pay and conditions take precedence over the freedom of the markets”.
“Social Europe”, according to Boylan, “has always been more of a rhetorical promise than an actual reality. Some EU Member States have strong records in building socially and economically equal societies. Others, including Ireland, have not even tried. However for more than a decade the policy direction of the EU, driven by both the European Council and the European Commission actively undermined the many social gains secured by the struggles of ordinary people at both a Member State and an EU level”.
She points to the example of the Lisbon Treaty. “Changes to the operation of the internal market or international trade which focused on increased liberalisation were strong and binding. Changes dealing with social Europe were vague and rhetorical”.
She sees the Lisbon Treaty and the associated referenda in Ireland as one source of another malaise. “Turnout in European elections has been declining across Europe and currently stands at 46% down from 67% in 1979. Trust in EU institutions is at an all time low and 66% of people across the EU feel that their voice does not count according to the Eurobarometer. It is hardly any wonder when we look at the disdain shown for Irish democracy in our EU referendum results. Berlusconi, Sarkozy and Barroso were among those who warned the Irish off voting No to Lisbon a second time. We are now seeing similar interference from the EU Commission on the Scottish Independence referendum”.
If elected as an MEP she would join the GUE/NGL (Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left) group in the European Parliament.
She is concerned about the linkages between policy-making at the national and European levels. “European policy-making has to become more transparent. For too long we have a situation in Ireland where our TDs wring their hands and take an ‘it’s not us, it’s Europe’ line whenever an unpopular EU Directive is to be implemented. Yet in most cases it is the Ministers from the same party who voted on the policy in the secrecy of the European Council”.
She thinks “MEPs should call on government Ministers to declare their voting intentions in advance when attending European Council meetings” and welcomes “the October 2013 ruling of the European Court of Justice which rejected the European Council’s policy of releasing legislative drafting documents with the names of Member States tabling amendments blacked out”. She notes “Sinn Fein is calling on the European Council to respect this ruling but to also go one step further and proactively publish documents containing legislative drafts and name the Member States who submit them”.
Boylan considers,“If elected to the European Parliament I will work to highlight the EU legislative agenda at an early stage in the media and in the Oireachtas so as to ensure that people have a better grasp of what is being proposed and how it will affect their lives”.
She concludes: “This year’s European Parliamentary elections give voters who support the idea of a democratic, egalitarian and social EU the chance to vote for candidates who want to put the social back in Europe. Sinn Féin stands strongly for a Europe grounded in equality, fairness and real opportunity for people”.