Colm Burke believes that both he and Sean Kelly can take two seats for Fine Gael in Ireland South (Munster) come the European election on June 5th.

Speaking to The Munster Express in the Granville Hotel on Thursday last, the Cork-based MEP said that he hoped the electorate would place their trust in both him and his Kerry colleague.

“I’m very confident,” said Mr Burke. “I think there’s a huge swing against Fianna Fáil in particular – remember they got 198,000 votes in the last European election; Gerry Collins got 73,000 votes and didn’t get elected so there’s a lot of votes to be shored up there.

“It is difficult to get two seats in a three seater, but we’ve set the goal. We set it in Leinster the last time around when people said it couldn’t be done but we delivered on that goal.

“People are looking for real leadership; they’re looking for strong candidates. It’s Europe to whom we will look for assistance in relation to people who have lost their jobs.

“And it’s important that we have someone out there who is keeping an eye on the ball, making sure that Irish interests are being protected given the difficult situation that we are in. And I believe that both Sean and I as Fine Gael candidates are best equipped to do just that.”

Assisting local businesses and the newly unemployed is an area in which Colm Burke feels he has delivered for Waterford.

Citing the recent changes to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund which opens the door for an application by the Irish Government to support those recently out of work, Mr Burke referred to those made redundant at Waterford Crystal.

“Waterford Crystal is a very sad situation. This really is the jewel in the Waterford crown which has been wound down in real terms and we’re still not too sure what the situation will be in the long term in relation to jobs there.

“You know, 320,000 people visited the factory last year. It is extremely important that it is kept open and that there is a manufacturing base there for it.”

The fund has been restructured through parliament in recent weeks, permitting applications from areas which have lost 500 jobs from a single business.

So what can the fund do for Waterford? “There’s no reason whatsoever why the Government can’t apply for funding from this fund for the Waterford area,” added Mr Burke.

“And while this funding doesn’t sort out the problems, what it does do is that it can give people a sense of hope through re-training and up-skilling.

“It can also be helpful for people who want to start up their own businesses. These significant changes to the fund were achieved in just 10 weeks, which demonstrates what parliament can achieve.”

Mr Burke said that Fianna Fáil’s decision to join the Liberal grouping in the European Parliament had served to strengthen his party’s position as the major supporters of Irish farmers in Brussels.

“The Liberal group is totally against the Common Agricultural Policy,” he claimed.

“Farming at the moment is going through a very difficult time in that milk prices were 38 cent a litre 15, 16 months ago – they’re now 20 cent a litre. I was talking to someone in Dairygold a few days ago and they’re saying that it may be down as far as 18 or 19 cent for the coming month.”

He added: “It’s a frightening time from a farming point of view. We need now, more than ever, support for CAP. And don’t forget that the present Agriculture Commissioner is also drawn from the Liberal group that Fianna Fáil is about to join…

“How can you expect people to invest if there isn’t stability in prices? And a lot of farmers over the last three or four years invested on the basis that milk prices would stay stable, but that hasn’t happened. They’ve invested, they’ve spent their money and now they’re finding it difficult to even make interest repayments to the banks; a lot of them are under huge pressure.”

And this particular area of discussion led Mr Burke to refer to the Lisbon Treaty, which will be put before the people come the autumn.

“In the parliament, we can’t take action on agriculture – the decision making powers in relation to agriculture don’t rest with us – we’ve only got a consultative role,” he stated.

“Under Lisbon we would have co-decision powers with the Commission and the Council, which is why Lisbon is important from a farmers’ point of view.

“Both the Socialist group, to whom Labour is attached and the Liberal group are against CAP and that’s why now, more than ever, Fine Gael needs to get two candidates elected in Ireland South.

“Farming is a big issue in this area, it’s a big income earner and for every person farming there’s at least 25 or 30 jobs downstream in manufacturing and processing and that’s important as well.”

Colm Burke feels that public interest in this particular election is greater than when last we went to the European polls in 2004.

“I think that’s a fair assessment,” he added.

“After June 5th, there’ll only be 12 [Irish] MEPs. A large proportion of what goes through Dáil Éireann has been initiated in Brussels and there’s no point in complaining about Directives five years after they’ve been passed.

“The time to watch Directives is at draft stage – for example I got amendments on the Toys Directive, an issue which was of concern to Hasbro in Waterford and they were right.

“Over-regulation can kill jobs and kill industry. And that’s why having an eye on the ball in Brussels at all times, one that I feel I can offer, is vital to Irish interests.”