Brussels Trip with Sean Kelly MEP

A group of Macra members travelled to Brussels with Sean Kelly MEP. They included Margaret Tobin, Emma Flynn, Michael Tobin, Thomas Lonergan, Caroline O’ Connor (all from South Tipp), Louise Cremin (Seandun), John Carroll (Kerry), Sean Cunningham (Limerick) and myself, Claire Bambrick (Kilkenny). The first day of the trip saw us settling in and doing a bit of exploring around Brussels. We stayed in The Leuven Institute for Irish in Europe which is located in the busy student city of Leuven.

Sean Kelly Brussels Trip 1

On the second day we were up bright (some weren’t so bright) and early and made our way from Leuven into Brussels city centre to visit the European Parliament. The sheer size of the building was astonishing and even more to learn that there are 6,000 people working there. Security getting into the building was as strict as an airport. We had to be signed in, wear name badges, go through metal detectors and be accompanied at all times.

Cliona Connolly met us in the Mickey Mouse room in the Parliament, named after it’s oddly shaped colourful chairs. Cliona explained what her role as Press Advisor for the Fine Geal MEP’s entails.

sean kelly brussels trip 2

Sean Kelly briefly met us before bringing the group to a lunch event which he had been chosen to host. Since St. Patricks day is not a public holiday in Belgium, Wednesday was the day the parliament got to celebrate. Lunch consisted of Irish food, well as Irish as possible as the parliament is very strict on what it allows in. There was Guinness on tap for anyone who wanted a lunchtime drink and also a variety of Irish brands of Whiskey. This event was attended by all the Irish people working in the parliament and also by people who just wanted to be a bit Irish for the day.

The afternoon say us have a meeting with Conor Mulvihill who is the European Affairs Manager with ICOS (The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society). Conor talked about the challenges of having few but big members and fighting for the best interests of both the co-operatives while also keeping the farmer in mind. This gave us a very insightful view of the many varied things the organisation does from lobbying and driving policy to representing its members on European and international farming and co-operative organisations.

Sean Kelly himself held a meeting with us, and explained the day to day activities of an MEP. They defiantly are a busy bunch of people and can often end up spending long hours in the hemicycle in Brussels or in Strasbourg voting on a variety of issues. He also very interestingly explained how every MEP addresses the parliament in their own native language, including Irish, and that it is translated live into the earpieces of the other MEP’s. His assistants were quick to tell us that he had just won MEP of the year for Digital Agenda which was chosen following a vote from his fellow 766 MEP’s, which we came to see was a well deserved award for a hard working man.

On our final day, we awoke to a warm sunny day, perfect for some sightseeing in the beautiful city of Brussels. We came back with new found knowledge of the European Parliament and also with a bit of an unexpected colour on our cheeks.

Claire Bambrick, Kilkenny Macra