de Brun resigns as MEP

Rumours on Twitter have just been confirmed by Gerry Adams that Bairbre de Brun is stepping down from her post as Northern Ireland MEP for “personal reasons”.

It had been suggested in recent times that de Brun’s health was not great and this may well be the personal reasons of which they speak.   Questions will inevitably follow as to the selection of a new MEP as her replacement.  As to who this might be and the Sinn Fein strategy in selection there is bound to be some debate.

As a unionist I have no great wisdom or insight into their choice but given that de Brun was fairly senior in NI politics at the time of her first euro election I would have thought that this would now favour Murphy,  Ruane or Gildernew.  All former assembly ministers with representing rural constituencies or they could stay inner Belfast, like de Brun and go for somebody like Gerry Kelly, a Maskey or (if they were being really bold) Niall O’Donnghaile.

NI politics has always had a difficult relationship with Europe.  At one time a popularity contest more recent MEP’s such as Jim Allister, Jim Nicholson and Diane Dodds have sought to try and deliver practical results to Northern Ireland from Europe.  OK I may be stretching matters in reference to Nicholson as a “more recent” MEP but for the purposes of this post I mean that post the UCUNF election of 2009.  The problem is that outside agriculture or fisheries Europe just does not grab the political headlines and it is hard to imagine any circumstances when that will change.  Is it therefore a step on the ladder of seniority or a cushioned fall?  That is the choice Sinn Fein must make.

  • Nordie Northsider

    Don’t be surprised if they co-opt someone from the South. More border-melting.

  • RyanAdams

    I would have thought Gildernew, however I think she is far too much of an Asset in FST for them to lose. Her personal vote has been instrumental in holding the seat for them at Westminister and pushing the SDLP out of existence in the constituency. Therefore I think Ruane, although how the South Down public react to having two SF MLA’s co-opted in is another thing. Whether or not Ruane could hold the seat in a Euro Election is also worth thinking about, although by 2014 I’d expect the eduction debacle will long be forgotten.

  • For me, De Brun was always the most (quietly) impressive of SF’s northern contingent. She was also exactly the sort of politician that SF should be promoting if they want to have any chance of expanding beyond the communal bunker. For that reason, part of me is sad to see her go, and even more so if her replacement turns out to be Ruane (although I’m sure many would be glad to see her gone from Stormont). O’Donnghaile would be a bold choice, but I suspect he’s most effective where he is now.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Ruane, there’s a lovely though, but she is a language expert I think? and the tennis thing could help.

    Gildernew would be unlikely as on a personal level she has a young family and it would be unfair on them ( btw this would equally apply to the likes of John McCallister for the UUP, not just because she is a woman! ) I’m not sure what the rules are on MP/ MEP over laps, they have been banned by Europe, but there may be a period of grace?

    I wonder could it be used to compensate one of those most likely to lose out in the boundary redraw? A co-optee would be less sore at losing out next time round.

  • Old Mortality

    Drumlin
    ‘she has a young family and it would be unfair on them…’

    Only if she bothered to spend any time there. The expenses are pretty generous though.

  • pacman

    UTV reports Martina Anderson as the favourite.

  • While many people will be familair with Birbre de Brun as a politician, there is probabably as many who know her as a school teacher in an Irish language school (before it was fashionable) and as an Irish language activist (before that too was “socially acceptable”).
    She played a crucial role in making Sinn Féin “respectable” to a wider voter base at atime when most SF members had recent baggage.
    I think for that very reason………and perhaps Caitriona Ruane is another example, she got a lot of vitriol from unionists because she was seemingly “too respectable” to be “one of themmuns”.

    In a curious way unionists accept Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly but are not so accepting of Ms de Brun or Ms Ruane.
    Its not only about “competence”.

  • Martina Anderson would be interesting.
    Although personally Id think Gerry Kelly had some experience of living in Europe.
    The cross-border thing is an interesting thought and while it would work with co-option, it would probably be an achilles heel in an actual election.
    Sinn Féin has a choice….someone with baggage…..or someone without baggage.
    Someone WITH baggage (as some would see it) comes with the loyalty of SFs core voters. Martina Anderson certainly does that. Paradoxically (and I think being a woman helps she is seen as someone who has made a journey of sorts.
    She is not exactly typically Sinn Féin.

  • iluvni

    why no by-election?

  • London_Irish

    iluvni,

    They’re not required for vacanices in the European Parliament.

    Holding a by-election for a position filled under PR (particularly STV) is quite unfair also – if you were elected to the last position through transfers, it is highly unlikely your repalcement would replicate your success under AV (as in Dáil by-elections) or FPP. When Joe Higgins vacated his EP seat following his election to the Dáil, it is highly unlikely that without a co-option the Socialist Party could retain that seat.

    Of course this opens up a deabte about whether people are voting solely for the individual or the party with whom they’re associated…

  • dwatch

    I wonder what Gerry Adams has to say about the Cardinal?

    “Cardinal Sean Brady: McGuinness and Gilmore critical”

    “Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and the Irish deputy PM both questioned whether Cardinal Brady should remain in his job.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-17939024

  • dwatch

    Sorry wrong thread. Please ignore.

  • RyanAdams

    Martina Anderson is a thought that had not crossed my mind … seems reasonble enough. Probably leaves the door open for Martin to try and take Foyle off the SDLP next time round.

    DR, The only one I can see for sure missing out in 2015 is Oliver McMullan in Mid Antrim. I’ve checked Nicholas calculations and they are not right! No nationalist has a chance in that seat!

  • andnowwhat

    I sincerely wish Bairbre well.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Ryan, Alex Maskey’s seat goes, but he probably would win one in SW Belfast, at the cost of one of their seats there, and they will also likely drop to 4 out of the 6, so thats 2 on the dole, go out west and you essentially have mid Ulster & West Tyrone merging, although could gain one in Glenshane, Marty to go with it?, there is prob 3 seats in Mid Tyrone, two top Shinners left round Coalisland, Speaker Malloy & Minister O’Neill, which could end up back in FST, but dosn’t stop them running in MT, Doherty surely will retire? Barry won’t, and never heard of the third, Micheala Boyle, is she expendable as a sweeper? If not O’Neill is another name to throw in the ring, Espically if Marty wanted to stay with the Tyrone bit and not Glenshane.

  • London_Irish

    DR,

    I think Marty would relish running in Glenshane in Westminster and unseating Gregory Campbell, would be stuck there then for Assembly also!

  • Drumlins Rock

    Was thinking that LI, however what about double jobbing? the SOS says he will ban it if necessary http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/doublejobbing-mps-to-face-ban-16057939.html, how will that work out for SF?

  • Framer

    Wot about wee Eoin O Broin? Didn’t he work for Bairbre in Brussels after representing Ardoyne then switching to Dun Laoghaire, later Dublin West and then the Seanad? A man for all places..

  • Barry the Blender

    This is fascinating,,, I suppose it’ll be a Sinn Fein reshuffle.

    Europe will be a nice prize for whoever is selected, all that really matter is that there’s a little name recognition come election time.
    But I can’t help thinking that for all practical purposes, it’s a bit of a cul-de-sac as far as one’s career goes (not that any Shinners are there for self interest). I’d therefore rule out Murphy or Gildernew.

    As a hunch I suspect it will be used to solve the candidate problems for SF in Tyrone and County Londonderry, although who gets it is beyond me. Anderson or O’Neill seem likely candidates, but wouldn’t rule out Ruane.

  • I actually remember de Brun as a French teacher in my grammar school back in 1981, which may well have been her first job. I too wish her well; all the NI MEPs have been personally helpful to me in Europe, whatever our differences on local issues.

    I would recommend that the successor be someone whose family situation can withstand being on the road half the time, and also, given that they will be in the GUE/NGL group, they will need to be fluent in French; other languages a bonus.

    (On the Nationalist seat in Mid Antrim, I agree I’ve called Nationalist seats that turned out to be phantoms in the past. I don’t see a Nationalist quota there under the currently proposed boundaries, but it’s close enough to be interesting.)

  • Dewi

    “Although personally Id think Gerry Kelly had some experience of living in Europe.”
    Very good FJH!

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Holding a by-election for a position filled under PR (particularly STV) is quite unfair also – if you were elected to the last position through transfers, it is highly unlikely your repalcement would replicate your success

    It might be worth pointing out at this point that de Brún did top the poll in 2009. Obviously Allister had a hand in that, but still…

    Bairbre had a particular skill set that I think SF will find difficult to replace. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Caitríona Ruane ends up with the job. It’ll keep her out of harm’s way and her status as incumbent MEP might well help both herself and SF’s new boy in South Down with the Euro and Westminster elections both due to take place in two years time.

  • RyanAdams

    DR, I actually hadn’t thought about what was happening in the West. I read it basically 3 x 3 SF MLA’s in the current FST, WT and MU and very likely to be 3 x 3 SF MLA’s in the new FST, MT and Glenshane seats. I forgot Cathal Hassan is likely to be holding the Limavady area so someone has to go elsewhere. I think Flanagan, Lynch and Gildernew will stay as they are, with O’Neill, Doherty and McElduff looking after Mid Tyrone. Glenshane will probably be Molloy, McGuiness and Hasson, leaving Boyle losing out although she’ll probably be a sweeper for Strabane.

    Nicholas, I think the Mid Antrim seat is bit similar to Lagan Valley at the minute. In the constituency should have a big enough catholic population that would be broadly equal a nationalist quota but I think Alliance will gain part of that, and the nationalist population are likely to be spread out thinly across the constituency which would make canvassing very difficult. Portglenone, Glenravel and Carnlough are most catholic areas of the DEA’s (Bannside and Braid in Ballymena and Coast Road in Larne) and also the areas which have been left out of Mid Antrim, so I think it will be very unlikely. I think there is about 4,500 nationalist votes here at the most. I think the same about SW Belfast, I really don’t think the unionists have the numbers there to get a seat either, if they do it will be scraping into the sixth one.

  • RyanAdams

    “Bairbre had a particular skill set that I think SF will find difficult to replace. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Caitríona Ruane ends up with the job. It’ll keep her out of harm’s way and her status as incumbent MEP might well help both herself and SF’s new boy in South Down with the Euro and Westminster elections both due to take place in two years time.”

    I think it might leave the South Down ticket a bit weaker in the long term. Two co-optees in the space of a few months may not go down too well either.

  • London_Irish

    Scáth Shéamais,

    She did indeed – I was talking more generally though, can’t have one rule for the poll topper and another for the guy or girl coming in under quota 😉

  • aquifer

    Co-option is a good way to introduce the next candidate to the public before an election.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Ryan:

    I would have thought Gildernew, however I think she is far too much of an Asset in FST for them to lose.

    Paisley and Hume, as well as others such as John Taylor, held down Westminster seats (and they didn’t abstain) while they were also MEPs, so it’s not impossible.

    Barry:

    Europe will be a nice prize for whoever is selected, all that really matter is that there’s a little name recognition come election time.

    If I was a career politician in one of the big parties I don’t think I’d be at all happy about going to Europe, being away where all the real politics happens, spending a rather lonely existence on the benches at the fringes of the European Parliament outside of any of the parliamentary groups, dealing mostly in maximising regional development grants and agricultural subsidy provision.

    If you’re the DUP or SF, it’s effectively a seat for life at this stage so an MEP is permanently stuck there without a party power base, until they resign or become ill – the only MEP to ever have lost a European election in Northern Ireland is Jim Allister.

    I think this explains why the DUP had to recruit outside their own party a few years back when they brought Jim Allister back in; and why they couldn’t find anyone more high profile than Diane Dodds. Jim Nicholson is almost never mentioned in the media and you’d be pressed to remember that he even existed unless your line of work involves dealing with Europe a lot, which around here probably means you’re a farmer.

  • Drumlins Rock

    OK first thing, in STV Poll topping is often the equivalent of a dunces cap, it should never be the target and dosn’t guarntee election. Losing the seat to the SDLP cant be ruled out somthing like a 2-3% swing could be enough, and the last time round it was a 0.3% swing to SDLP, small but in the right direction for once.
    As for South Down, the second seat there is probably safe at present, so is moving Ruane a good thing or not? Outsiders might not see her as a vote winner, but she polled much stronger than her running mates, so it is a risk, that local appeal might not transfer as well.

  • Drumlins Rock

    CS, got this from Wiki
    “A member of the European Parliament (MEP) may not be a member of the legislature of a member state.[1] This dates from a 2002 European Union decision, which came into effect at the 2004 European elections in most member states,[1] at the 2007 national election in the Republic of Ireland,[1] and at the 2009 European elections in the United Kingdom.[1]”

    De Brun & Nicholson made a career out of the job, it still beats an MLA, and obviously a MP in SF at least, might not beat a ministeral role, but those are limited, personal reasons are the big issues for relectance often.

  • Granni Trixie

    Unless my memory plays me tricks, was de Brun not “sent to Europe” ( to the surprise of everyone” ) because she was not popular in SF?
    Likely therefore that Catrna will be sent way for same reason.

    If so, looking Iike there could ironically be cultural differences within SF.

  • Valenciano

    Co-option is a disgrace. It effectively means that some members of a legislature are chosen after the election by political parties without being given any democratic mandate at all. Surely it’s much more democratic to have a list of subs to fill vacancies as that way there’s been some kind of democratic approval of representatives?

    It’s hard to think of any other country in the world where representatives are selected by a political party, post-election.

  • London_Irish

    Valenciano,

    Co-option certainly does lead to a democratic deficit, but so too do by elections for STV vacancies which heavily favour the larger parties.

    The trouble with having a list of substitutes is that it then acknowledges that voters are voting for a party rather than the indivdual. For that to work we would have to switch to either closed-list PR or the d’Hondt list system used in the ’96 Forum election.

    Personally I would’t have a problem with either in the case of European elections (as it is unlikely that a party will elect 2 candidates – although I know some will disagree re the DUP). However, if this was to be used in Assembly elections also, I would strongly favour an open-list system, to give some influence over the choice of candidates as we have now.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Val, co-option isn’t perfect, but generally it is the best option I can think off. It is generally accepted that shall we say 90% of the votes cast are for a party and not the candidate personally, as the results coming in from England confirm, so it remains an extremely strong if not perfect mandate, if you add in the factor that rarely is the co-option carried out before at least half a term is served (sorting out the double jobbing this time round being the exception) and the Co-optee is often a former candidate who had a good but insufficent vote the time before.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating, the vast majority of co-optees are re-elected at the next election, the voters get a say soon enough.

    I strongly disapprove of the sub-list idea, as it favours “failed candidates”, the very people the voters rejected, I can’t think of anytihng more undemocratic!

  • sdelaneys

    Granni Trixie, I think Bairbre was popular enough in Sinn Féin and believe she was sent to Europe to keep her out of the way as she was more radical on many issues than the Martins and the Gerrys would like.

  • Granni Trixie

    Over the years I have given much thought to :do people vote for a party or an individual and conclude that in some cases people vote in a particular way becuase of the appeal of an individual but in more cases because they identify with a particular party. So it varies and is likely to continue this way because this is due to human nature.

    Also,although cooption is not ideal, for financial reasons it is likely to continue. (by elections cost money). I do not favour a system of a list even if this seems to give voters more info on which to base their decisions, as a list formed in one context or time may not be best in the long run. What I think is additionally interesting is the question of how are ‘replacement’ politicians selected internally. Recently Alliance had to replace Judith Cochrane for instance and the Castlereagh association had to follow procedures before selecting someone. If you were selecting someone to replace an MEP however i imagine the SF leadership in a party decides.

  • Granni Trixie

    Sdelaneys: thanks, v interesting. you now have me wondering what she was radical about.

    also, is OBroin not in same position?

  • Granni Trixie

    Ps being sent to Europe makes a nice change from being sent to Coventry.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    From politics.ie:

    We asked the UK Electoral Commission how MEPs are replaced in Northern Ireland. Like the Republic, vacancies in the rest of the UK are filled via a list of substritures. However in Northern Ireland a nominating officer within the party can select the replacement.

    Politics.ie understands from Sinn Fein sources in Belfast that a selection convention will take place shortly where a replacement will be selected.

  • Valenciano

    Drumlin, I’m confused. You say…

    “the Co-optee is often a former candidate who had a good but insufficent vote the time before.”

    and then go on to add

    “I strongly disapprove of the sub-list idea, as it favours “failed candidates”, the very people the voters rejected,”

    What is a co-optee who had “an insufficient vote the time before” if not “a failed candidate who the voters rejected”?! I really don’t see the distinction!

    Also if the subs are on a list at election time, then they have been approved as a stand in.

    ======
    “The trouble with having a list of substitutes is that it then acknowledges that voters are voting for a party rather than the indivdual.”

    Not at all since independent candidates will also have a list of subs.

    Anyway, what is co-option by the party of the departed individual other than a belief that voters are voting for a party? The only difference is that with a list of subs, the voters have approved the stand in. With selection by a political party, they haven’t.

    Independent/non party candidates would also benefit. What happens at the moment if an independent is elected then dies/has to retire? A by-election then has to take place surely, with all the problems noted above doesn’t it?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Val, the sub list would be submitted before the election, sometimes the no. 2 will bomb at the polls, with the electorate being a better judge than the party! that person would be a very bad co-optee, but your stuck with them. The circumstance can also change over the years meaning ghat person is no long suitable, ie. age and health even. Or even the no.2 could be from the wrong end of the constituency if their are two sitting candidate..

    On the other hand the no2 could have exceeded expectations for a first run and is the obvious co-optee, which is often the case. There is no need to make it compulsory, let the party decide, I cannot see anyones vote being overly influenced by the second or 3rd names on a list, which would only cause more confusion. STV is complicated enough for some.

    Finally, the person with the only real mandate is the individual standing down, if they strongly object to their replacement they could just hold on or make it difficult, the fact that dosn’t happen often if ever, essentially means they endorse their replacement, think that is a good enough mandate to me.

  • Comrade Stalin

    drumlin’s rock :

    I stand corrected on the double jobbing regulation in the EU, thank you.

    On the point about De Bruin and Nicholson having made a career out of it .. yes they did, but it was a career spent in Brussels and it was/is a dead end. That is fine for someone who wants that job, but like I said I don’t think people do, hence the perception that De Bruin may have been “banished” there, and my observation that the DUP had to recruit outside of their party, and then select someone with a mid-level profile.

    There is absolutely no way the numbers could fall for there to be a second nationalist seat. That would require a significant chunk of unionist voters to vote SDLP as their second preference. There is no way that is going to happen.

    Regarding co-option, I’d agree that it’s a bit too wide to allow political parties to simply appoint someone at any time, as is the case right now, and I am sure there are cases where this mechanism has been used either cynically, or as a convenient way to avoid an embarrassing problem (by replacing an elected rep before the news breaks). It was surely much better to require a list of alternatives to be submitted along with the nomination papers.

  • On BdB’s replacement – does Caitriona Ruane speak French or German? (Do any of them?) That’s a key selection criterion – less so for the UUP (who will sit with a mostly Anglophone group) and not at all for the DUP (who won’t sit with any group). But the GUE-NGL group has always had a strong Francophone base, and its current chair (and her two immediate predecessors) were German Communists.

    On the process – I’ve commented in the past that nomination by the party leader to fill the vacancy is perfectly satisfactory from a democratic point of view. It’s then up to the party whether they want to organise some internal (or even public) nomination process. The idea of a by-election is just crazy, and the problem with substitute lists is that personal circumstances of those on the lists will often change in the years after an election.

    On the numbers – I agree that there is zero chance of two Nationalist seats in the next Euro-election. I also agree that there is not quite a Nationalist quota in the new Mid Antrim, and not quite a Unionist quota in the new South-West Belfast, but in both cases they are close enough to make things interesting.

  • YelloSmurf

    The European Parliament only sits for a few days at a time a couple of times a month. I would suggest that being a (non abstaining) MP is probably more disruptive in terms of family life. As for co-option, it’s not perfect, but I don’t know what else we can do. If we held an AV by-election, it seems unlikely Sinn Féin would retain Mitchel McLaughlin’s seat in South Antrim. That is just one example. It is possible that Sinn Féin would struggle to retain the MEP seat. Lists are a good idea but they have problems as well. The Assembly abandoned lists when it was found that no one on the list was available to replace a particular MLA. We also have to question how a list is better if the public have no idea who is on the list.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Nic, whats the odds on a good SDLP candidate just pipping a poor SF one? With SF unlikely to pick up transfers and being just 5000 over the 121k quota ( the last quotas were 137k 2004, 169k 1999 ).

    From what I read Caitriona is fluent in Spanish ( with a Columbian accent? ) She would pick up French quick enough I would imagine, and Italian & Portugeese are obviously quite close.

    With SF being the worst abusers of the co-opting system it still dosn’t discreit the system, merely the party, and the voters don’t seem to care, thats democracy.

  • Comrade Stalin

    DR, I’d take pretty much any bet that the SDLP would not pip SF in a future European election.

    Nicholas, I don’t find that argument for co-option to be very compelling. Delegating the election process to the political party isn’t democratic. Sadly there really are no good answers to this, beyond entering into a US-style arrangement of party member registrations.

  • On the SDLP beating SF in a good year, well, yes, that is more or less what a good year for the SDLP means. I suspect it is more likely to happen, if at all, in the context of a broader realignment of Nationalist parties, rather than the SDLP achieving a fluke result one year with a star candidate. Which is not to say that I see it as likely at all.

    Co-option – no worse than any of the alternatives, and easy to administer!

  • Valenciano

    “Val, the sub list would be submitted before the election, sometimes the no. 2 will bomb at the polls, with the electorate being a better judge than the party!”

    The problem with this and other arguments against subs lists is that the situation applies equally to co-option. There’s nothing at all to stop the party co-opting a failed candidate or one from a different part of the constituency. The main difference is that at least in the case of subs lists, the public has had the chance to approve or disapprove.

    Also no one has dealt with my point about independent candidates. What if one is elected and then dies? Since they don’t have a party leader or party structure then surely there has to be a by-election? But as we all agree, by-elections are unsatisfactory under STV. So why is it okay to discriminate against independent candidates and their supporters when a perfectly valid alternative method, subs lists, exists which doesn’t differentiate between the two?

    “I’ve commented in the past that nomination by the party leader to fill the vacancy is perfectly satisfactory from a democratic point of view.”

    There I’d have to completely disagree, I honestly can’t think of anything less democratic than having people appointed to a legislature AFTER a democratic election by a party leader. Especially when in many cases they
    weren’t even on a ballot paper and maybe (like Sinn Fein’s recently co-opted MLA Chris Hazzard) have never even stood for election before.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Val, independant candidates would appoint a nominating officer like anyone else, except they would be a friend or relative rather than the party leader.

  • 241934 john brennan

    Bairbre de Brun has had good run in Northern politics and I honestly wish her well in retirement.
    One time Stormont Health Minister – noted for setting up enquires and review groups, but not for making decisions. At the time this was known in medical circles as ‘paralysis by analysis’. She later became an MEP and was noted for being silent in 3 languages.
    Apparently the present front runner as her replacement is Ms Ruane, one time Stormont’s Education Minister – also fluent in three languages and incoherent in all them. Her oft repeated mantra ‘every school a good school’ might become ‘ every European decision a good European decision’!?

  • cynic2

    So what led to her ill health then?