Independent MEP and candidate in the upcoming European elections, Marian Harkin, has hit the campaign trail in the newly-formed Midlands-North-West constituency.
Ms Harkin was in Longford last week to meet with local supporters.
“I topped the poll at the last two elections, but with new counties it’s a different ball game now,” the former Sligo-Leitrim TD claims. “I’m an independent candidate running a frugal campaign and I’m up against party candidates who will have transfers.”
The MEP runs a tight ship and her frugality extends beyond her election campaign, too.
“When I left the Dáil I was entitled to a TD’s pension as well as my teacher’s pension - I was a teacher for 20 years - but I will not claim those pensions while I’m an MEP,” she states.
“I’ve given back in excess of €200,000 over the past five years.”
But it’s her record in the European Parliament over the past decade that Ms Harkin hopes will be her real trump card on election day next month.
“I was MEP of the Year in 2011 and 2012, and I won an Outstanding Achievement Award in 2011 as well,” she says.
At the top of her manifesto for the campaign is employment and social affairs - an area she has long been involved with at European level.
“I led the Parliament in establishing the European Globalisation Fund,” she reveals.
“It provides money to people who have lost their jobs due to the crisis in world trade, for example, bank workers or people who worked for a large regional enterprise.”
Referencing her previous work in this area, she adds that, “I initiated a €35 million fund for workers who lost their jobs in the construction sector.”
Ms Harkin, who is aligned with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in Brussels, explains that she is also playing a role in an attempt to bring about a shift in EU policy by placing the same emphasis on social benchmarks as their economic counterparts.
“We have made progress and the Commission is including some social benchmarking, but we want an equal footing,” she states.
Other social policies in the MEP’s sights include minimum incomes and pensions.
“This could especially affect the self-employed, who are not entitled to a lot benefits, and would be linked to the cost of living in each member state,” she continues. “While it would be up to each individual state to implement the policy, it can be pushed at EU level.”
Speaking about her other priorities, Ms Harkin refers to her involvement in the CAP negotiations.
“Overall, I think most people can live with the budget. Future challenges include trade deals and the designation of Disadvantaged Areas.”
Also on her agenda are disability and carers’ issues, where she cites her role as Vice President of the Disability Intergroup and her involvement in drawing up a EU carers’ charter.