I thank the Chairman and members for extending once again this valuable invitation to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Union Affairs and provide an overview of European Movement Ireland's accountability report. My presentation today will focus on our 2014 report. This fifth accountability report has been collated into a detailed infographic. In addition to our 2014 work, the infographic of the 2010-2014 period also enables us to compare and contrast our findings over the past five years and better enables us to draw some overall conclusions. We do this as part of our ongoing efforts and mission statement to shine a light on Ireland's engagement with Europe at a number of different levels. For over 60 years, we have been dedicated to promoting the economic, political and social development of Europe, ensuring transparency and accountability at all levels of Ireland's relationship and engagement with Europe. Hence, these are four years of our accountability reports and last year's infographic. Cognisant of the time constraint, I will do my best to distil down our five years of accountability in a short address.
Similar to my previous presentations before the committee, I would preface my remarks with something of a health warning and caveat.
Our reports rely solely on quantifiable indicators that are available in the public domain. We acknowledge that they cannot definitively and fully analyse the overall quality of the engagement measured. For example, we acknowledge that analysing the daily activities of MEPs in the Parliament does not allow for a complete analysis of their engagement with the European parliamentary process since much of the work of MEPs is ongoing.
We believe that applying this caveat is a necessary precaution. However, it is no reason not to monitor and comment on data that is publically available. European Movement Ireland believes that scrutiny is vital in promoting transparency and accountability at the highest levels of Ireland’s engagement with the EU and I hope the findings of our accountability report and my presentation today are beneficial to members, both as committee members and parliamentarians.
Turning to the accountability report, members will see that for 2014 we have split the report into two substantive sections looking at the European Council and the Councils of the EU, the European Parliament and the Oireachtas. The first section is a summary of our 2014 analysis and in the second part of the infographic, we share our reflections on the 2010-2014 findings and draw an analysis over the five-year period.
I ask members to first look at the European Council and the Council of the EU. We found that the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, attended all eight meetings of the European Council in 2014. Members will see that a 100% attendance rate by the Taoiseach and his predecessor, Brian Cowen, is consistent across the 2010-2014 period for a total of 34 Council meetings. European Movement Ireland welcomes this record as evidence of Ireland’s commitment to high level EU engagement.
Attendance by Ministers at meetings of the various Council configurations of the EU increased steadily from a 75% initial finding in 2010, peaking at 99%, the highest ranking of all the member states in 2013, coinciding with Ireland holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of Europe.
On the basis of published information available to EM Ireland at the time of our 2014 report publication in May of this year, we found that Irish Ministers attended 72 of the 85 Council of the EU meetings in 2014, with an overall average attendance of 84.6%. There was very little separating the member states' attendance at the various Council meetings in the middle section of the rankings. In some cases, for example, just one meeting may have been attended by Ireland at Secretary General or Permanent Representative level but that is not recorded as ministerial attendance for the purpose of our accountability report. We acknowledge and preface our remarks by indicating that ministerial absences from meetings were impacted on by conflicting domestic obligations, including Cabinet meetings and Oireachtas business associated with the budget.
A closer scrutiny of ministerial attendance goes into some detail in terms of the various Council configurations but in summary, we believe the picture is quite positive. With more than 400 meetings of the various EU Councils over the past five years of our reporting period, the average attendance by Irish Ministers at those meetings stands at 88%.
As members will know, our accountability report is an organic and evolving process and we always welcome feedback from our stakeholders and members of the public on how we progress with the report. Based on feedback from our initial year in 2010, we got feedback, guidance and advice on how it would be useful to compare Ireland's findings with the rest of our EU member states. That was a new indicator that we tracked in 2011. Averaging out Irish ministerial attendance over four years, in comparison with the rest of the EU member states, Irish ministerial attendance for the four years from 2011 stands at 91%, which compares to a German average of 87%. Denmark stands at 89%. I felt it was useful to put that in context for members. We will continue to monitor ministerial attendance and we would be hopeful that this average continues to improve.
Turning to the European Parliament, regarding the performance of Irish MEPs over the five-year reporting period, European Movement Ireland tracked monthly plenary attendance and the number of speeches, written questions, opinions and reports issued by Irish MEPs.
A caveat must be applied to the analysis of the 2014 findings since the European Parliament elections were held in May 2014 impacting on the ordinary functioning of the European Parliament and levels of national representation. To better reflect this we divided the findings into 2014 A for the first half of the year when Ireland had 12 MEPs, and the latter half of the year from July onward when Ireland returned 11 MEPs.
The five-year findings show average attendance by Irish MEPs at monthly plenary sessions increased from 84% in 2010 to a high of 93% in 2013; 2013 was a very good year. Attendance held steady in the first half of 2014 but decreased to 76% in the latter post-election half of 2014, which was among the lowest attendance by member states in this period.
The number of speeches by Irish MEPs fell from 944 in 2011 to 200 in the latter half of 2014. That downward trend, mirrored in the 2014 figures in particular, is reflected across written questions, opinions and reports issued but again members should note that in 2014, the Parliament was not in full legislative mode.
It is also encouraging that already in 2015, based on our preliminary research and findings to date, the published data at the end of September are indicating an increase across the majority of these metrics, which is something we welcome. Up to the end of September, attendance by the Irish MEPs stood at 83%, with 758 speeches delivered, which already exceeds the entire number of speeches given last year.