‘In politics, there’s no such thing as a safe seat’
It’s been difficult to spot the woods from the trees lately, given the pall which the new economic reality has draped across Waterford, Munster and the entire country.
Politicians will soon have their charges despatching leaflets through our letter boxes, with many of the faces on those same leaflets destined to appear on our doorsteps within the next few months. For election season will soon be upon us.
Brian Crowley is among the political establishment seeking re-election. Despite the battering that Fianna Fáil has consistently taken in opinion polls of late, his broad appeal should once again see him topping the South poll come mid-June.
The man himself, while not quite viewing it that way, is optimistic about retaining his European Parliament seat.
“Nobody has a safe seat in politics,” he told The Munster Express last week.
“The people ultimately decide who they want to represent them. I believe that from my work over the last 15 years, not just in Brussels but on the ground in Waterford and other parts of Munster, people see my commitment, to be a voice at a European level whilst at the same time dealing with their concerns at local level.”
When asked if the Government could have handled its initial reaction to the economic downturn without incurring the wrath of the retired, the vulnerable, our educators, students, etc, Mr Crowley somewhat dodged the question.
“The economic downturn is a global problem and one which no single country can come forward with all solutions,” he proffered, firmly toeing the party line.
“By having coordinated action at a European and international level to deal with the banking crisis, etc and with a realistic and vigorous social partnership agreement I believe we can find the way to help us to recover from this present economic turmoil.”
Speaking of turmoil, the Lisbon Treaty has largely disappeared from the media of late, but will make its inevitable return during both the European election campaign and ahead of the second referendum in the autumn.
Iceland’s bankruptcy and initial cap-in-hand approach to Russia could well have been a path Ireland would have been forced to take had it not been for EU membership.
To put it another way, if we thought things were bad now, imagine how much worse it would be if we weren’t committed to the European project.
With speculation rife that Iceland may join the Union by as early as 2011, that island’s plight provides a bat that the pro-Libson movement will use to hammer home their message ahead of the second vote.
“This is an issue for the Irish people to determine whether or not we will have full engagement within the European Union,” said Mr Crowley.
Referring to the Oireachtas-formed committee which examined Ireland’s future in the EU, the Cork-based MEP said the Government has listened to the voters with both ears firmly open.
“It is clear that one issue of concern was that Ireland wouldn’t retain the automatic right to nominate a member to the European Commission,” he said.
“EU leaders agreed last December, in the event of Lisbon being ratified by all 27 member states [that] every country will retain a Commissioner.
“Moreover the Irish Government is seeking to get binding commitments from other member states with regard to key areas such as taxation, neutrality and socio-ethical rights.
“In other words, if we can secure agreement to these issues a second referendum will include all these key changes.”
The ‘black sheep’ tag which had been slapped by some commentators on Ireland following the first Lisbon vote was unjust, a point which I put to Brian Crowley.
“Ireland still has many friends in Europe,” he stressed, before referring to examples of diplomatic camaraderie.
“When problems arose with our pork sector before Christmas, the EU gave an aid package. The EU is to provide a financial aid package to retrain those who lost their jobs with Dell. And recently, the EU reintroduced export refunds to help the dairy sector so as to stop the fall in milk prices in Ireland and around Europe.”
Attempting to inject a positive stream into my line of questioning, surely the fact that we’re actually talking about the European Union in a substantive manner due to the Lisbon rejection was, ironically, positive?
“I’m very pleased that the European parliament elections will be fought on key European issues,” he said. “A full and frank debate about Ireland’s relationships with Europe is healthy for the country.”
Campaigning should be tough, all the tougher in a period of lengthening dole queues and disquiet with the establishment, not that the latter has ever been a problem for Crowley.
Former GAA President Sean Kelly’s presence on the ballot paper has added some high profile spice to a campaign which, traditionally, has failed to capture the public imagination in anything like the same manner as the local vote.
In a statement that surely reflects his confidence in retaining his seat, Brian Crowley is happy to face all incumbents and contenders alike.
“In every election there were always more candidates than seats, so there will be competition but it is a healthy sign for democracy and the people get to make their decision. I look forward to engaging with all candidates to allow people to determine who will best represent their viewpoint.”
Speaking of elections, talk of the Presidency has been rife and few would argue against the notion that Brian Crowley would prove a more popular choice for the Aras among non-Fianna Fáil voters than Bertie Ahern.
Indeed, in The Irish Times of September 28th, Mr Crowley said it would be “great to go for [the Presidency] if the opportunity arose”.
Four months later, with the former Taoiseach having said nothing to suggest he wouldn’t mind a shot at the Phoenix Park, Brian Crowley offered a more tempered response when asked the question again.
In fact, only ‘no comment’ would have been the only option which would have revealed a more telling reply.
“My focus is on the forthcoming European elections and my desire to continue my commitment to serve the people.” And that was that.
More than once over the years, Mr Crowley and his colleagues have spoken of the important role that publications such as ours play in transmitting the European message. It was a point he happily refrained during our most recent communication.
“I have always had the belief that local print media as well as local radio gives more opportunities for deeper discussion and questioning of what action we need to take,” he said.
“Sometimes the national media is only interested in the sound-bite rather than the substance.”
One last question: What would you say to anyone out there who sees European politics as one big gravy train, an administrative monster which takes forever and a day to get anything meaningful done?
“Every five years, 475 million people across Europe have the right to choose who will be their voice to make decisions with regard to European law, to advocate on behalf of local issues and interests, to guide the future direction of European policy, to voice the concerns of those who do not have access to decision making.
“The European Parliament has significant powers in law-making and this can be used for the benefit of the people of Munster and Ireland.”