The renewed goodwill and neighbourliness between Ireland and Britain that has followed Queen Elizabeth’s successful visit to these shores is facing fresh peril - this time over the UK’s decision not to include Sellafied in an upcoming safety check of Britain’s nuclear facilities.
Media reports this week cited a British government spokesperson as saying that Sellafield would not be one of the 143 nuclear reactors across Europe to undergo a “stress test” ordered by Brussels in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The spokesperson explained that the UK decision was based on the fact that Sellafield was a nuclear processing facility and not a power plant, therefore it did not meet the EU criteria for stress-testing.
However the Irish government do not seem to be taking no for an answer - a spokesperson for Environment Minister Phil Hogan said it was the department’s “understanding and expectation” that the stress test would apply to Sellafield, following a bilateral meeting on the issue in March.
Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness has called on the British authorities to clarify their position on the stress tests, which are due to begin next month. “Sellafield cannot be exempted from vital safety health checks because of a technicality. It remains an active nuclear site and therefore poses risks like any other. The UK authorities should be willing to put Sellafield to the stress test, even if it’s not covered by the EU proposal, as it still represents a major safety concern for Irish citizens,” said the Fine Gael MEP.
Ireland ‘treated harshly by EU partners’ says British MEP
A senior British member of the European Parliament who headed up a high-level delegation to Dublin this week has spoken out strongly against the terms attached to the Irish bailout deal.
MEP Sharon Bowles said she was “outraged” by the conditions imposed on Ireland, especially as regards the punitive interest rate on the loans. Ms Bowles, who is Chairperson of the influential EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, was speaking in Dublin following a series of meetings to determine the impact of the financial crisis on this country.
Ms Bowles praised the government’s handling of the crisis and said her delegation had come away with “a sense of things being on the right track”. However she criticised attempts by other EU countries to force Ireland to raise its corporate tax rate in exchange for a lower interest rate on the bailout.
“While Ireland is coping well with the terms imposed, a lower interest rate would mean a faster recovery, which is surely in the interests of the EU and the ECB as well as Ireland. Of the three countries in rescue programmes, Ireland is performing best in class, so to suggest corporation tax measures in return for an interest rate reduction is simply spiteful,” she said.
The delegation, which included Irish MEP Gay Mitchell, met with government ministers, officials from the Central Bank, the National Treasury Management Agency, the Irish Banking Federation, the ESRI and trade union leaders.
Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell said it was “imperative for MEPs to learn at firsthand the real situation in Ireland, and the extent of responsibility taken by the Irish government and people.”
Irish NGOs take part in European Week Against Cancer
Representatives from several Irish groups involved in the fight against cancer travelled to Brussels this week to help promote European Week Against Cancer.
Speakers from the Irish Cancer Society took part in a debate in the European Parliament on how all forms of cancer can be linked to lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, sun exposure and smoking. In a separate seminar, medical experts from the Irish National Cancer Screening Service spoke about how to prevent cervical and lung cancer.
Ireland East MEP Nessa Childers hosted another session on the role of volunteering in oncology. The event brought together stakeholders including the European Cancer Patient Coalition, health professionals, scientists and social media speakers, to examine how NGOs can share best practice across EU countries and help contribute to European cancer policy.
Speaking from Brussels, Ms Childers said cancer rates are predicted to rise sharply because of our ageing population, unless urgent action is taken to improve cancer control.
“At the moment, one in three Europeans will be diagnosed with cancer during their life-time. But everyone should know that making small changes to your lifestyle could prevent more than 30 per cent of all cancers,” said the Labour MEP.
Equitable Life victims may lose out on compensation
Thousands of Irish people who incurred losses to their savings at the failed British insurance firm Equitable Life were warned this week that they may not all qualify for compensation.
Policyholders affected by the Equitable Life débacle are to begin receiving payouts from the British government by the end of June, however concerns have been raised that the compensation scheme is not as ‘equitable’ as it might have been. Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness, who chaired an EU inquiry into the Equitable Life scandal, urged Irish policy holders to check this website - equitablelifepaymentscheme.independent.gov - to determine if they qualify for a payout.
“Policyholders who are eligible will be contacted directly. But unfortunately, not everyone who has been a victim of Equitable Life will receive the compensation they deserve and some will, very understandably, be disappointed,” said the Fine Gael MEP.
Over one million UK policy holders and more than 15,000 policy holders in other EU countries, including 6,500 in Ireland, incurred losses to their pensions, savings and investments due to errors by UK regulators prior to 2001.
The British government has set aside £1.5 billion in compensation to be paid by 2014. The oldest policy holders will be paid first.