To my constituents,
I hope this update finds you well and that many of you will be happy to see Ireland proceed with Phase 1 of our plan to ease the COVID-19 restrictions on Monday.
This week in the European Parliament was a busy one, with a meeting of the Transport and Tourism committee early in the week and a plenary session from Wednesday to Friday. We voted on many measures to deal with Covid 19 on issues of transport and there was a debate on the long term EU budget and the recovery plan. This week we also saw the European Commission give guidelines for the easing of restrictions across the EU for travel this summer.
Transport and Tourism committee
At the beginning of this week we welcomed the executive Vice President of the European Commission Mr. Frans Timmermans to the Transport and Tourism committee for an exchange of views on climate, the European green deal and the future of the transport sector. I took this opportunity to underline to the Vice President the importance of aviation to Ireland for both tourism and business but also the need for a sustainable future for the younger generations.
We discussed the various regulations that are being adapted to deal with the current crisis, such as ensuring the validity of licenses and certificates that cannot be renewed due to current restrictions. We move as quickly as we can to react to all aspects of the situation, so that the essential drivers and vehicles that deliver the much needed medical supplies and food can still do their jobs.
The use of contract tracing apps
This week the issue of contact tracing apps has become more central as we look at ways to ease restrictions and allow people to move across Europe. On Wednesday the European Commission announced a set of guidelines to facilitate travel this summer, it wont be travel as we are used to but it does mean that people may be able to take a break and go somewhere nice. Above all else, social distancing and hand washing are still critical to stopping Covid 19 but testing and tracing are fundamental in catching the virus and limiting its spread.
The use of an app can speed up the process of contact tracing, therefore making it more effective. There are concerns about how the apps will work, about tracking movement and about data protection and privacy.
The apps do not track your location, instead they use blue tooth to take note of proximity of other devices and the information is stored locally on your phone – meaning it’s a decentralized system – something that many data protection specialists were eager to see. Your data is stored for a limited time and then deleted when it is no longer epidemiologically relevant. Using the app is voluntary, that’s also very important, so you are not obliged to use it but the more people that do the more effective it is. And when its effective it means we can track the virus and contain it, ultimately meaning that it will allow us to have greater freedom to move and less risk to our health.
I have written to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon to get assurances that the correct measures are being put in place to monitor the development of these apps and to protect data and privacy of Irish citizens.
This week saw the third and second last round of negotiations on the future relationship with the UK. The chief negotiator for the EU Michel Barnier had been looking to see tangible progress made on tricky issues like fishing, the level playing field for goods, overall governance of the relationship. However it proved to be a challenging week for the negotiations. There was some movement towards dialogue on fisheries but overall there was a failure to make progress on other more difficult topics. Overall a serious lack of reciprocity was found on the UK side. There is one final round before the end of June, when both sides will take stock of the progress, and there is a long way to go to reach an agreement that would avoid a no deal scenario in January 2021.
Recovery fund and the long term EU Budget
Today the European Parliament called for a strong recovery and reconstruction package, building on the EU's long term budget to put citizens at the heart of the recovery. The recovery and transformation fund should be €2 trillion in size and it should be financed through bonds and given through grants as well as loans and direct payments for investment. A strong social dimension must be part of the recovery efforts, addressing social and economic inequalities and the needs of those hardest hit by the crisis. The recovery from the pandemic will be challenging which is why strong support and funding from the EU budget is crucial to getting things up and running again.
As always, if you have something you would like to contact me about, please get in touch as I am always happy to engage with my constituents.
All the best,