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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 27 November, 2014

FF poll-topper: There’s no bad blood with Micheál – I’d just rather meet with the people of Tipp

The perennially popular Ireland South candidate on his 20-year Brussels record, his past differences with Micheál Martin, and why he’s not participating in TheJournal.ie’s EU quiz.

Crowley campaign

BRIAN CROWLEY, THE country’s longest-serving MEP and a four-time poll topper in his constituency, is insisting there’s no disagreement with party leadership in the wake of his no-show at the Fianna Fáil national campaign launch in Dublin last Wednesday.

In fact, he’s insisting it’s unfair even to describe it as a ‘no show’ — the candidate simply had prior campaign commitments in West Cork and Tipperary.

“I mean it would be insulting to the people who help me on the canvas trail in those different areas,” Crowley told TheJournal.ie as part of a wide-ranging interview at Cork’s Silver Springs Hotel the following day.

I was in Bandon in West Cork and I was in Templemore and Thurles, Roscrea and Nenagh — and that had been arranged some weeks beforehand.

You know, there was no insult intended or I hope none taken and I rang Micheál and told him the reason that I couldn’t be there — because this canvas had been arranged and I couldn’t cancel it at the last minute.

The veteran MEP re-states several times in the course of the encounter how he prefers to meet one-one-one with prospective voters, rather than engage in set piece media opportunities. A poll last week put him on 36 per cent support — almost two quotas worth.

The question of whether or not the Bandon native has fallen out with the party leadership (both sides, it should be stressed, are insisting he hasn’t) isn’t a new one — there was also a much-publicised spat in 2011 over the party’s presidential election strategy.

Crowley had put himself forward as a potential candidate for the Áras. Ultimately, Fianna Fáil — in the wake of that year’s disastrous General Election result — chose not to put anyone forward. Reports the following year said he hadn’t spoken to Micheál Martin, the recently-installed leader and a fellow Corkonian, in months.

“The only difference was that, I mean, I felt we should have a candidate,” Crowley says.

Whether it was me or not was irrelevant.

I felt we should have had a candidate for the presidential election and he took a different opinion and the party took a different opinion.

So have the differences been patched-up?

There was no patching up to do.

I mean he’s the leader of the party. He has to make decisions in his way. I’m a member of the party. I make contributions on what I think is right. That’s it.

On the campaign trail in Bandon last month – Brian Crowley/Facebook

Three weeks out from election day, the MEP is once again sitting pretty at the top of the polls — some 20 points ahead of his closest rival. Unsurprisingly — he says he’s taking nothing for granted.

As he faced into a national poll likely to put him on course for a quarter of century’s service in Brussels, Crowley also dealt with questions on his record over the past 20 years, his party’s past mistakes … and his refusal to take part in TheJournal.ie’s EU quiz.

First though…

Does he still harbour ambitions for the Áras?..

The next election’s still long way off (2018, assuming there is one) — but EU parliament terms are five years long…

Well, I mean, to be honest with you I only focus on the next election and the next election for me is on May 23rd.

I’d never be arrogant enough to assume that I’m going to be elected.

That’s why I’m out still campaigning, you know, canvassing and doing things and so on — and depending on what happens from that you look to the future then.

If somebody told me a number of years ago that I was going to be doing this job that I’m doing today I’d say they were mad.

It was not something I’d be thinking about, long-term planning or whatever else — but that’s just the way things come about. As I said, my focus is on the next election and that election is the 23rd.

TJ: “And are you taking the pledge if you get in?… Will you stay for the five years?”

Of course, yeah. Like, sorry, again, in my first election in 1994 I gave up my seat in the Senate when I didn’t have to — you could have had a dual mandate — to take up my seat in the European Parliament. So I’ve had four terms in the European Parliament.

Buying sweets in Cobh [Brian Crowley/Facebook]

On the public’s perception of EU politics…

Crowley says issues like unemployment, the economy, and medical cards are top of people’s agenda when he’s out on the canvass. Other European candidates have spoken of challenges of communicating the workings of the various EU institutions to busy voters, over such expansive and varied constituency areas — how is he finding it?

Well, I mean, I’ve been doing this for a number of years so what I’ve been doing every weekend for the last number of years is going around meeting people and meeting communities in their places — in their own villages, in their towns or business associations or farming associations or whatever else where they have some time to discuss the issues and see what you can and what you can’t do and that’s the only effective way of explaining it.

No matter how good your brochure is or how good your booklet is or how good a video — you may do an email or whatever else — it’s only when people get an opportunity ask questions on specifics that they find out truly what they want to know.

And what are you telling people about your ambitions for the next five years when you speak to them now?

What I’m telling people is that they’ll get the same as what I’ve done previously — the same kind of service, the same kind of response back to them and involvement with them at a local development area level, local community area level and all I can promise them is my best endeavour and my hardest work.

I mean… it’s not like I’m going to be the Minister and I can stand up and say ‘I’m going to bring in this law’. That’s not the way Europe works.

In in a lot of ways the Dáil is immediate. The Minister stands up, for instance, on the issue of the water charges — the Minister stood up and made an announcement there was going to be a bill. It was voted through the Dail — It was guillotined. It became law.

If that was happening at a European level it could take four or five years because Europe is done on a consensus basis, so you have to get the twenty-eight governments to agree first of all and then you have to get the different political groupings of the Parliament to agree and bring it all together — so therefore it takes a longer process and I think people do understand that. There’s not an immediate reaction from Europe but that it takes time to build in the processes and what needs to be done.

Speaking in Templemore on Easter Sunday [Brian Crowley/Facebook]

On the last five years…

Crowley sits on the EU Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. He says the number one achievement of the panel in the last term, from the perspective of Irish voters, is the ‘Horizon 2020’ initiative — some €80 billion will be spent on the funding programme for small businesses between now and 2020, with Ireland hoping to secure some €1.25 billion.

That’s been the biggest achievement in the sense that we already know the successes of the Framework Seven Programme — that was the previous programme for research and development.

Small and medium Irish enterprises got a million euro a week in research and innovation and development funding from that, and the new fund is bigger. Now it’s up to us in Ireland to determine how we’re going to draw it down and how we’re going to spread it around.

And who are you?… Yes, that’s Roger Daltrey. This was in Strasbourg, following discussions on the music industry [Brian Crowley/Facebook]

On the opinion polls — and his FF running mate…

In terms of electoral support, there couldn’t be a greater contrast between the fortunes of the two Fianna Fáil candidates running in Ireland South: Crowley’s the outright leader — at least according to last week’s Irish Independent poll. His party colleague, Kieran Hartley of Waterford, is languishing on just 2 per cent.

Is there much co-operation between the two campaigns?

I mean we’re working together because we’re in a party ticket and we’re trying to do the best we can in that there’s no split or divide, and we’re each entitled to go into each others’ areas and canvas as much as possible — and in fairness to Kieran that’s what he’s been doing.

He’s been around canvassing every part of the constituency and that’s what I’ve been doing as well.

With regard to the opinion poll — I know it’s a cliché but there’s only one poll that matters and that’s the one on the 23rd.

TJ: “It is a very good result though, in fairness.”

Yeah but, I mean, will it stack up? That’s the bottom line. You know, there’s a number of caveats have to be put into that poll. The margin of error in the poll compared to other polls is 4.4 per cent, whereas normally it would be 2.1 per cent or 2.2 per cent.

With ex-MEP Ari Vatanen at a motoring event in Clonakilty last year [Brian Crowley/Facebook]

On his health…

Crowley had some well-publicised health issues in recent years — undergoing numerous surgeries to relieve debilitating problems with his legs. The condition kept him out of public view for several months last year.

The problem I had was wounds on my legs that wouldn’t heal. I’m in a wheelchair since 1980 — and two-and-a-half years ago was the first time I had any problem with wounds on my legs that wouldn’t heal.

I simply just had to go into hospital and get treatments, skin grafts and things like that. After each piece of surgery you had to wait in bed to do the next piece and next piece, and for some it was more complicated than they initially thought it would be, and it took a bit longer.

Touch wood — all is good so far, but I can’t tell you I’m going to be perfect for the next ten years or whatever. I don’t know.

TJ: ”You were out of commission for quite a period, that time…”

I wasn’t around on the ground as much as I was previously, but I was still working from my bed and on the phone and on the computer and stuff like that. The amount of work in my office didn’t decrease anyway.

Finally — on his decision not to take part in TheJournal.ie’s EU quiz.

Some context here… This website intends to carry out full interviews with each candidate running in this year’s European elections before polling day. As part of each wide-ranging interview (generally done in person, and each taking at least half an hour) we’ve been firing each one a series of quickfire questions on general EU political knowledge: ‘who is the President of the EU Commission?’ for instance or ‘when did Ireland join the Euro?’.

Over a number of conversations as this interview was being arranged, Crowley’s campaign team had made it clear the Fianna Fáil MEP didn’t want to take part in the quiz. 

On the day, we asked again in person — making the point that the campaign was, after all, essentially a long-form job interview with the people of Ireland, for one of the most sought-after political positions in the country…

Well, I mean — you’re right. This is a job interview, but the job interview is me with the people. That’s the job interview.

It’s the people who vote who are the people that I must convince that I’ve the right skills or I’ve the right talent or I’ve the right ideas or the right motivation to do the job that they have.

I have no difficulty with answering questions on any topic or on any issue as I’ve proven to you already — but on a personal basis, I think that it is demeaning to candidates to try and catch them out on quiz – pop quiz – questions because this is a serious issue, these are serious issues.These are serious elections and, you know, if you want to discuss serious topics and serious issues — very good.

TJ:  ”Considering it is such a serious job — there are some basics that the people of the country would like candidates to know about. These are just basic questions that we’re putting to them…”

…There’s twenty-eight countries in the EU. There’s five hundred and four million people living within the European Union. There are three main institutions; the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council. There’s a European Court of Justice and a European Court of Auditors. There are heads of each of those institutions — Presidents or Chairmen depending on which institution you’re talking about.

There are seven hundred and sixty-one* MEPs at the present and there will be seven hundred and fifty-one MEPs after this election, and every five years people vote across the twenty-eight countries to elect their MEPs — and those MEPs after the Lisbon Treaty have co-decision with the European Commission and the European Council to make decisions with regard to the laws and the regulations that will be brought in on their behalf.

*After such a strongly worded defence of his position on our quiz, this footnote may well appear a little petty… However, at present, there are 766 MEPs, not 761.

Read: ‘I’m doing this because I’m concerned and worried’: Anti-pylon candidate on why he’s not actually anti-pylons

Read: SF Ireland South candidate: “We have to put up with the fact that we’re part of Europe”

Read: Meet the former Rainbow Warrior hoping to help the Greens surf back to electoral success…

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