Green Party MEP: 'EU needs to share asylum responsibility'

Ahead of the opening off her new constituency office in Cork, Eoin Kelleher spoke to Ireland South MEP Grace O'Sullivan
Green Party MEP: 'EU needs to share asylum responsibility'

MEP Grace O'Sullivan Opens Constituency Office in Cork City

IRELAND South MEP Grace O’Sullivan expanded the Green Party’s presence in Cork city this week when she opened a new constituency office in a historic building in Washington Street.

She has campaigned for over 30 years for numerous environmental and human rights causes, including the case of an Irish aid worker accused of espionage and forgery in Greece.

Ms O’Sullivan recently travelled to Greece to help defend the case, having known Seán Binder from her work as an MEP interested in human rights.

“I facilitated a press conference in Strasbourg just prior to the trial, which was great because it put the spotlight on the trial,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

The charges were dropped against Mr Binder and 23 other human rights defenders, but the case has highlighted the fragility of the rules of law in some EU countries. More serious felony charges have been laid against the aid workers in what their supporters say are trumped up charges.

“We managed to get 89 other MEPs to sign a letter to the European Commission to Ursula von der Leyen to highlight the case and I was engaging with the Irish Government,” she said.

“I was using my MEP platform to network with other MEPs from different political parties, and to focus attention down to Greece where the trial was happening in Lesbos.”

The campaign against the prosecution was “effective” resulting in the charges being annulled on January 13.

Ms O’Sullivan saw the conditions of refugees first hand. Young men in the camps often leave their families in war zones, hoping for a better life: the reason why males go out and seek refuge first is because they don’t want to risk the lives of their wives and children.

“That needs to be understood,” said Ms O’Sullivan. 

“The male goes out first, seeks asylum, and then the family reunion mechanism comes into place. The family, maybe two or three years later, are reunified together.”

A sense of ‘Fortress Europe’ is beginning to develop, she explained.

“What we’re trying to do is recognise is that we will not stop the flow of migrants, particularly as we see the situation in Turkey and Syria, with thousands of lives lost in the earthquake.

“There probably will be another wave of Syrian refugees coming, so we’re not going to stop the flow. But what we can do, as a union of 27 member states, is to share more of the responsibility. It is complex.”

She said that sometimes, the Irish seem to forget that we were the migrants, in the 1980s and in earlier times, working illegally in the US and beyond.

“There will be migration because of the turbulence in those countries. People are genuinely suffering persecution and oppression.”

Ms O’Sullivan said Ireland is seen as a country that has relatively good support mechanisms.

“We wouldn’t see people come to Ireland unless they had a sense of hope that they would get refuge here.”

Party popularity

The Green Party’s popularity rose one point to 4% of the total in a January opinion poll, despite inflation, and the winter hospitals and housing crisis. At one stage, they were at 7%, so overall they are down in the polls, said Ms O’Sullivan.

“That’s to be expected. We’re in government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I think the reason we see that slight increase, up from 2 or 3%, is because of the agenda we represent. It’s still enormously important.”

The pathway for the EU is to move towards a green and digital transition, and people in Ireland recognise that it is the Greens that deliver on these issues, said Ms O’Sullivan.

But, does the public see the Greens as being too close to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael?

“I don’t think so,” Ms O’Sullivan said. “If you look at the Green Party, there’s a rigour in the party. You can see we are a party where at times, there is a debate and discussion. We’re constantly focusing on where we can really have impact.”

The economy should transition towards carbon neutrality, she said. Good housing that is well insulated, better public transport, tackling dereliction, and better planning: “this is the way we’ve got to go.”

Ms O’Sullivan introduced the Derelict and Vacant Properties legislation in the Seanad in 2017.

“There is a huge amount of vacant properties here in Cork city. Not only are we dealing with the green agenda, with Eamon Ryan as the Minister for Climate and the Environment, but when it comes to the social agenda, we have Catherine Martin. All of her work is engaging extremely well with people in the arts and culture.”

Cork is prone to flooding and is in the frontline in the fight against climate change due to its vulnerability.

“There is a lot traffic in the city and we need to support people to move towards public transport. It has a large student population. We have to get people on to trains and buses, but we have to make sure that the buses are reliable, and I’m hearing on the streets that there is not a great reliability.”

Fares also need to be student friendly, and in-keeping with the cost-of-living crisis.

Constituency office

Elected to the European Parliament in 2019, O’Sullivan noted that due to the impact of Covid-19, a constituency office wasn’t feasible for the first few years of her mandate. Now that restrictions have generally ended, and with renewed energy from engaging with events on the ground in the Ireland South constituency, she says that the time is now right to open the space.

“I’m very excited to open this base in Cork City, not only to share and educate about the work I’m doing in the European Parliament, but also for it to serve as a green hub in Munster’s largest city,” she said.

Meanwhile, people from rural areas are seeing the benefits of Green policies, and “I think we are engaging better with them than we ever did” Ms O’Sullivan believes.

“A green social transition is not for people in cities only, that is for everyone.

“We’re strong on inclusivity and LGBT rights, and in terms of quality of life.”

Ms O’Sullivan hopes to run for the next election.

“There is so much happening here in Cork. It’s now a 2030 Mission City which means that it will be a flagship European city becoming carbon neutral in the next decade. This should be transformative for how people live and work here.

“There is so much potential for Cork to be a shining example in how other cities and towns across Europe can be transformed into more liveable cities, and I’m excited to connect the work of the European Union to what is happening here on the ground,” she said.

As well as serving as a base for her staff, the MEP plans to use the new constituency office space for constituency meetings and public events.

Ms O’Sullivan will have two staff based in the office, and plans to work closely with her Cork Green colleagues Cllrs Oliver Moran, Colette Finn and Dan Boyle on Cork City Council, and Cllrs Liam Quaide and Alan O’Connor on Cork County Council.

The office is located at 12D Washington Street West, T12 NX77.

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