I regularly update this blog with reflections on current events, issues I’m dealing with in the parliament or important trips I make. I welcome feedback, and encourage you to comment on the blog posts.
The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted to approve the Tobacco Products Directive today. Every year 700,000 people die in Europe from tobacco-related diseases. This includes 7,000 people in Ireland that die of smoking related disease every year. This is an exploitative industry that profits on addiction and ill health.
Today’s vote endorses health warnings that take up two-thirds of the packaging and a ban of flavourings which are used to appeal to appeal to young people. This is a step forward and is to be welcomed.
Although tobacco lobbyists have been able to chip away at some of the earlier stronger proposals, today’s vote represents an important victory against tobacco lobbyists. In the run up to the original debate in the Parliament – nine tobacco firms, 22 tobacco industry lobby groups, and 12 PR firms, including former senior Fine Gael advisors, spent millions of euros in lobbying.
A leaked document revealed that just one of these firms, tobacco giant Philip Morris, had meetings with 233 MEPs, one-third of the Parliament. Likewise, the European Commission failed to abide by the WHO’s ‘Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’ which places limitations on the interactions between lawmakers and the tobacco industry. This has exposed the intimate relationship between corporate lobbyists and the EU institutions.
This Directive has been endorsed because of the hard campaigning work of health campaigners. Despite their limited resources they were prepared to challenge the tobacco industry.
After this victory, more must be done to stop the unwarranted influence of big tobacco companies. Pressure must put on governments to ensure that this Directive is properly enforced and that they are put under pressure to implement further measures such as larger health warnings, plain packaging, public information and assistance to those that wish to quit.
Ahead of the third round of negotiations for an EU-US Free Trade Agreement (TTIP – Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement), The Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, announced a partial suspension in order to hold public consultations.
The Commissioner´s announcement to suspend the talks for three months in order to hold public consultations is an important partial victory for trade unions, environmental organisations and left MEPs who have consistently criticised the European Commission for its secretive way of holding trade talks in the interest of big multinationals on both side of the Atlantic.
In the summer of 2012, a public campaign brought down the controversial ACTA Agreement (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) where similar concerns about the non- transparency of the talks were raised. This was a huge blow to the Commission and they are trying to avoid another defeat by seemingly paying more attention to the concerns of the public.
However, the suspension of the talks does not change the character of the talks. The intention of the European Commission to come to what they see as a successful agreement that will contain strong protection mechanisms for big corporations remains. The suspension is an attempt to calm things down. It is a partial concession to save the Agreement in the long run.
Opponents and critics of the Agreement should use the three months to continue to campaign against the agreement and to spell out who will benefit from it. The so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism (ISDS) would give big corporations the right to sue governments for loss of profit. This represents an undermining of democracy which fills the pockets of big business. At the moment, tobacco giant, Philip Morris is using such an arrangement to sue the Australian state for plain cigarette packaging. This pro big-business agenda needs to end.
EU foreign ministers toda voted to deploy EU troops to the Central African Republic. This deployment offers no way forward for ordinary people in the Central African Republic. Various European armies have engaged in conflicts throughout the world and nowhere have they delivered real stability.
Time and time again we see the same pattern of western military intervention. Military action is initiated under the guise of ‘humanitarian assistance’ or ‘stability’ but in reality the overwhelming motivation is the assertion of power in a given region in order secure their interests. We can see here in Central African Republic that the control of mineral wealth is key.
Last month’s intervention by France shows that a military intervention is incapable addressing the problems. The French government said its military intervention would stop the country collapsing into anarchy. The facts however, speak for themselves – in a country with a population less than the Republic of Ireland, nearly a million people have been displaced and over 1,000 people have died in the last six weeks alone.
Eamon Gilmore has stated that it is “unlikely,” that Irish troops will be involved in this military adventure. However, it would seem that Eamon Gilmore voted in favour of this intervention at the Council. I call on Eamon Gilmore and the Irish government to come clean and be honest to the Irish people and immediately clarify if they support this military adventure or not.
The Central African Republic has valuable natural resources which are effectively pillaged by Western based big business and the local ruling elites. As a result, this massive resource wealth in the Central African Republic does not benefit the masses of the country who are living in poverty. This massive poverty and inequality are a motor that is driving this conflict.
Although largely ignored in the western media, there are workers’ and trade union organisations in the Central African Republic. Last year saw important struggles that united Christian and Muslim workers and poor. Rather than EU military, it is the workers’ movement in Central African Republic that has a crucial role to play in cutting across sectarian division and uniting ordinary people in a common struggle against their exploiters, poverty and for control of their country’s natural resources.
Today I have written to the Minister of justice Alan Shatter calling on Government to permit Presidential Pardon for Margaretta D’Arcy and for her immediate release from Limerick Prison. Margaretta is a long standing peace activist and was inprisoned on charges related to her protest against the use of Shannon airport by the US military.
The incarceration of Margaretta D’Arcy, a peace activist of 79 years of age is an utter disgrace. The real criminals who deserve to be in the dock are those in the Irish establishment who have over the last thirteen years permitted the US military to use Shannon in its so called war on terror.
Ms D’Arcy is a long-time acquaintance of President Higgins who himself spoke at protests in Shannon during the Iraq war. Given that Ms D’Arcy is undergoing treatment for cancer I call on the government to do what is necessary, i.e. issuing a Presidential pardon that will result in her speedy release. I am writing a letter to that effect to Minister Shatter and copying the President. I urge people who can to turn out tomorrow at 1pm at the protest organised by Ms D’Arcy’s supporters outside the Department of Justice on Stephen’s Green.
Copy of the letter below:
I am writing to you following the news of the three month sentence served by Judge Patrick Durcan at Ennis Court in December 2013 on peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy.
As you are aware the original sentence was suspended contingent on Ms D’Arcy signing a bond committing not to resume her protest at the ongoing us of Shannon Airport by US Military Aircraft stopping over on their way to and from operations in the Middle East and Asia.
Ms D’Arcy like her late husband is a peace activist of many decades standing. She is 79 years of age and receiving treatment for cancer. Her actions were totally justified in my view in that they have served to highlight greater crimes by the US Military.
Given the circumstances and the humanitarian concerns I think it entirely appropriate that the powers under Section 7 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1993 to grant a Presidential pardon or commute or remit punishment be used to bring Ms D’Arcy’s ordeal to an end.
Paul Murphy MEP
This afternoon and tomorrow a delegation from the Economic Affairs committee of the European Parliament will come to Dublin to investigate the impact of the troika in Ireland. I will be participating in the delegation which will meet with the government, central bank officials, economists, ICTU representatives and NGOs.
It is essential that this delegation looks at the realities of austerity in Ireland and not the government spin about ‘recovery’. The €27bn in cuts that have been implemented has resulted in a social crisis. Unemployment is at record levels and is set to remain in double digit figures. Emigration has seen one in seven young people leave the country in search of work, nearly one in five mortgages are in arrears or have been restructured. Poverty is increasing; over one million live in poverty which includes one in three children.
But while the vast majority struggle under the impact of austerity; a small minority have gained handsomely. Corporate profits are up 21% and corporate taxes are minimal. The recession and mass unemployment has been used to drive down wages and conditions; Ireland now has the unenviable title of being the precarious work champions of Europe. The Inquiry should examine who the real winners of Troika policies are.
In an attempt to distract attention away from its own role in faithfully implementing the troika’s austerity programme, the government will try to put the question of a retrospective write-down of banking debt to the fore. It appears almost certain that this will not come to pass and that the government was engaged in successful spin in June 2012. I will be trying to establish the true situation here. I will also try to establish the truth about the rumoured ECB ‘ransom note’ to the previous government which the ECB has refused to comment meaningfully on.
Despite rhetoric around the time of the General Election in 2011 about burning bondholders, Labour and Fine Gael have shown themselves to be loyal lieutenants of the troika and have faithfully implemented the Memoranda of Understanding. This was a political choice that was taken by this government, they chose Frankfurt’s way. They cannot now try to wash their hands of responsibility for the effect of this.
For updates on the delegation’s meetings follow @paulmurphymep on twitter