IRELAND’S history of emigration may be part of the reason why xenophobic far-right parties have not taken root here, according to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.
Speaking at a €50 per head breakfast fundraiser for the re-election of Sean Kelly MEP, Minister Noonan told a crowd of close to 200 at the Strand Hotel that he expects up to a quarter of the seats in the European Parliament to go to fringe parties of the left and right.
Mr Kelly introduced the veteran Limerick TD as “the best finance minister in Europe” following last week’s award for Minister Noonan from the influential Banker magazine, which is owned by the Financial Times.
Sean Kelly, the minister said, could expect to be asked about potholes every bit as much as the council candidate as Ireland heads into elections in May.
But European issues, distant as they could sometimes seem, were of huge importance for Ireland, which send 40% of its exports to European countries other than the UK.
The “most important issue” currently facing Europe he said was the ongoing instability across North Africa and the Middle East. And this would become more acute as the United States becomes self-sufficient in energy this year and its “interests in the Middle East continue to wane”.
Instability on its borders and the “massive inward migration into Europe” from the unrest were huge questions for Europe and Ireland had to decide where it stood on the immigration debate.
Far-right, anti-immigrant parties such as the True Finns in Finland and the Front National in France were attracting greater support while there was also increasing support for fringe parties of the left.
“Right across Europe the centre is no longer holding and the best prediction I have seen is that mainstream will hold 75% of (European Parliament) seats and 25% will go to fringe parties. And a lot of that is because many people no longer see Europe as part of solution to their problems.”
Independents and Sinn Fein were getting a lot of what Minister Noonan saw as a disaffected anti-European policy vote.
But he said Ireland’s history of emigration may be a reason why the far-right has little support here.
“We are a country where traditionally people have emigrated so I think we have an insight into the difficulties of being an immigrant and trying to get a position in a new country. I think we have a more reasonable attitude towards immigration than some other countries.”
With the Ireland South European constituency expanding from five to nine counties and “stretching from Dingle to Bray”, the political landscape in Ireland had also changed but Minister Noonan said he was “confident” of Sean Kelly’s re-election.