ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing: Speaking out in Parliament is protected

Socialist MEP Paul Murphy spoke forcefully in the European Parliament during the week against homophobic attitudes in Ireland.

But his remarks were not picked up by many media because of fear of libel.

A thorough investigation by this newspaper, however, has confirmed that MEPs’ statements in the Parliament are fully protected against defamation actions, and so are those reporting them — just as in the Oireachtas.

This should lead to some interesting exposés from MEPs in the run up to the European elections.

Cross-purposes on language faux-pas

The Irish should understand why Flemish-speaking Belgians are sensitive about their language.

For generations, state schools refused to teach in Flemish — a variant of Dutch — and state jobs went only to French speakers. So it is a little embarrassing that the large Celtic cross in the grounds of Ypres Cathedral has an inscription in three languages — Irish, English and French — but not in Flemish.

It says: “In memory of those men of Munster who died fighting for freedom. A tribute erected by the people of the province and Cork, its capital city”.

It was not on Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s war graves visit last month, but luckily there is a space on the fourth side of the cross for the Government to right a wrong on behalf of the people of Munster and Flanders.

Landing job of judging judges

COURT CHOICE: Supreme Court Judge John Murray has been elected by the ministers of the 47 countries that belong to the Council of Europe to lead a panel of five judges to assess the suitability of judges short-listed for the European Court of Human Rights.

The court has had a huge bearing on Irish citizens’ efforts to force greater social justice in the country — the most recent being Louise O’Keeffe’s case on sexual abuse of pupils.

Payback reforms

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has been asked to look at why Irish farmers are having to pay back EU money apparently because maps from the Department of Agriculture were incorrect.

MEP Sean Kelly said the situation is grossly unfair and he has taken the issue to Ms O’Reilly and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.

He also makes a case for a reformed and independent Agriculture Appeals Office.

The sky’s the limit

Blue sky research produces many breakthrough discoveries, often turning up ideas and goods un-thought of by scientists when they started out.

The EU funds those looking to bring some of the fruits of this blue sky research into concrete use, and so far four Irish -based researchers are among 67 to be awarded grants of around €150,000 each.

Two are in UCD — Frederic Dias, for a system to measure huge rogue sea waves, and Debra Fern Laefer for a way to use land and air scanners to create images for cheaper and faster 3D printing for engineering jobs; In Trinity, Valeria Nicolosi is working on 2D technologies; and John Nolan in Waterford Institute of Technology is extracting lutein from algae, that is essential in fighting blindness.

Fighting against ‘marketisation’ of health

The Platform for Action on Health and Solidarity — a citizens group — has launched a campaign to fight against the ‘marketisation’ of healthcare.

They say free market logic is taking control of health services with huge chunks — 70% of surgery in France for instance — performed by for-profit hospitals.

Waiting lists are growing and these companies select the patients they treat on the basis of who has the most profitable ailment. They plan to target MEPs in May’s European Parliament elections and asking them to reverse this policy.

FGM is a barbaric practice

Female genital mutilation is a growing practice despite being illegal in many countries, including Islamic ones, with the UN estimating more than 125 million women have been victims.

More than half a million girls in the EU have been mutilated in this way — many being sent to grandparents for the procedure carried out without anaesthetic.

Women in Sub-Sahara Africa are particularly afflicted including Mali where it is perpetrated against near every female. On Thursday the prime minister of Mali visited the EU presidents in Brussels — the day before the UN’s Day of Zero FMG tolerance.

Nobody apparently thought to mention the issue to him.

Perhaps they thought it would interfere with trade.

Step up measures to cut out food fraud

It’s been one year since it emerged that horse meat was being sold as beef. But despite promises that the situation is under control, EU consumers body BEUC warns it could happen again.

While many EU citizens have no problem eating horse, the real issue, BEUC says, is food fraud.

Ireland, where the issue first arose, carries out a lot of DNA testing, apparently. But last month in France meat from laboratory horses used to produce vaccines was found in the food chain. Full origin labelling for processed meals property enforced is the only answer — and the time to act is now, the body says.


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