From top: Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; vote result yesterday in the European Parliament sitting in Strasbourg
Fine Gael MEP for Midlands–North-West Maria Walsh spoke on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland about her and her party colleagues decision to vote against a resolution to step up search and rescue operations of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean.
The other Fine Gael MEPs who voted against the resolution were Mairead McGuinness, Maria Walsh, Frances Fitzgerald and Sean Kelly.
Green Party MEPs Ciarán Cuffe and Grace O’Sullivan, Sinn Féin’s Martina Anderson and Matt Carthy, and Independents Luke Ming Flanagan and Mick Wallace all voted in favour.
No votes were recorded for Independent Clare Daly, DUP MEP Dianne Dodds, the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long or Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher.
The vote lost by two votes – to applause within the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Ms Walsh started her interview with Dr Gavin Jennings saying that there were a number of “red flags” in the resolution which she voted against.
The resolution included the following line:
“Calls on all actors in the Mediterranean to proactively transmit information related to persons in distress at sea to the competent authorities for search and rescue operations and to, where appropriate, any potential vessels in the vicinity that could imminently engage in search and rescue.”
Dr Gavin Jennings: “Why did you vote against the resolution?”
Maria Walsh: “Well, first and foremost, based off, let me be very clear. My colleagues in Fine Gael and the European People’s Party, EPP, support search and rescue for the most vulnerable in the Mediterranean and we’ve been very clear on that. We’ve also been very clear that we want effective and workable solutions for the Mediterannean, working with our new EU Commission, working with our council and, of course, across the European party.
“Not only is it morally right but it’s legally our duty to save our most vulnerable. But this report had a number of red flags to it and you would have seen that based off the 288 voted in favour, 290 voted against.
“Couple of red flags for us so as the EPP group, we made a plan. We needed to make sure that our most vulnerable was protected. So we had four key votes and I’ll just explain one of them in particular that was the one voted down was amendment 59 which was calling, which was proposed by S&D and Greens originally and we had really fought to include this into a key vote into the report as a whole and it wanted information shared to all vessels – NGOs, Frontex, members states.
“Now what we see in Essex and what I’m reading on the reports is the fact that we have an incredible serious issue with human trafficking, incredible. That we need to solve and find a solid solution for. But sharing information of our most vulnerable when they’re at most risk, is not the way to do it.
“So, how, what was proposed by other parties was information would be shared throughout. That, that, I can’t stand over that. EPP couldn’t stand over that. That is just one call. But I do want to stress to listeners and to yourself – this report does not change, this resolution I should say, does not change, does not combat or create any other issues under international law.
“All vessels that come into contact with individuals must assist them and this vote doesn’t change that.”
Dr Gavin Jennings: “OK.”
Walsh: “But what it does is it shows that, it shows that we have to go back to the drawing board, it shows we have to bring in Ursula von der Leyen commissioner-designates in to talk about this and we have to find a solution that works for all, that member states…”
Jennings: “The resolution…”
Walsh: “….and NGOs are not at risk…”
Jennings: “Maria Walsh, the resolution called on all actors in the Mediterranean to transmit information in relation to persons in distress at sea to the competent authorities for search and rescue, all actors in the Mediterranean. Now your party, Fine Gael, as part of the European People’s Party voted alongside ultra-nationalists and far-right parties to defeat this resolution by two votes. Many of those parties were celebrating the result in the European Parliament. Are your party proud of your achievement?”
Walsh: “Not at all. Actually, I won’t speak for, I won’t speak for any other group, except the EPP. I know the co-ordinator quite well, Roberta Metsola for the EPP, I also know the Shadow Repertoire on this file Lena Düpont, from Germany. And I can tell you this: we, as soon as the vote was cast, and the result was shared, we were disappointed. We wanted the…”
Jennings: “Many of the parties that votes alongside you were far from disappointed.”
Walsh: “Well, like I said I can’t speak on behalf of any other group, except the EPP. But the one sentence that came out from again Roberta and Lena’s mouth is: we need to get back to the drawing board. And we need to get back fast. So that issues, and you see a lot of red flags here, that people are clinging on to the fact that four MEPs from Fine Gael voted this down.
“This report was loose in language, it was not legally binding, it was not looking at support from member states, it was actually putting NGOs, that do amazing work, most at risk.
“And we are looking at and calling for an increase in smuggling and trafficking. And any report that has any grey area with increase of trafficking, I’m sorry. I hope my listeners, your listeners, agree with this: we cannot support.
“I also just want to point out…”
Jennings: “Very briefly..”
Walsh: “Yeah, I just want to point out. This report wasn’t, wasn’t green flagged by everybody. I want to note that four S&D colleagues voted down, five were absent. Renew Europe, ten voted down and four were absent. Now the far, far right, or far left, if you want to give them names…”
Jennings: “I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there, Maria Walsh, MEP, thank you very much for speaking to us this morning.”
Listen back in full here
Yesterday: Meanwhile in Strasbourg
Previously: What Fresh Hell…?
Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly
This morning, Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly spoke to East Coast FM about the vote.
He told Declan Meehan that he and his colleagues “don’t want to put anything put in place to help the smugglers”.
Asked about the applause that rang out after the vote result emerged, Mr Kelly said: “I think it was terrible.”
He added that those who applauded “had a different reason for voting the way we did”.
Conor McCabe tweetz:
After he voted to let people drown in the Mediterranean, Seán Kelly ordered himself a juicy burger and side plate of chips. He even fu**ing tweeted it.
Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher has tweeted:
Yesterday, I voted on over 140 amendments and resolutions.
Included in these were votes in favour of many GUE/NGL amendments supporting their position on refugees and migrants.
However, voting was slow to start and as such I had to leave at 12:45 in order to compete my 2.5 hour bus journey to Frankfurt in order catch my flight back to Dublin and then onto Cork.
I 100% would have voted in favour of this resolution. I hope that the EU Council and Commission can implement progressive proposals to protect migrants & asylum seekers and save lives.
RTÉ News reports:
Speaking to RTÉ News, Ms McGuinness said the provision would have required Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, “to share information with all ships in the region, including traffickers”.
Ms McGuinness said that would not have been acceptable and said if the resolution had been passed, it would have “made the situation worse”.
“We had concerns about the actual content of it, not about the objective,” she added.
Ms McGuinness said she “will not allow anyone challenge my ethics or morality around saving lives” and she insisted the parliament “will revisit this issue again” very shortly.