Friday 21 October 2016

Fuss about Crowley move hard to fathom in the ideological desert of Irish politics

Published 01/07/2014 | 02:30

Brian Crowley has joined the ECR group in Europe. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney
Brian Crowley has joined the ECR group in Europe. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney

Does Brian Crowley's move to a right-wing grouping in the EU matter when ideology is almost entirely absent from Irish politics? In a statement explaining his move from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) to the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group, Crowley said the priorities of his new EU bedfellows included "creating long-term jobs and prosperity for member countries, which match my policy priority".

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Of course, if anyone could find a political party that was opposed to job creation and prosperity, it would be quite a feat.

Meanwhile, his party leader, Micheal Martin, had a somewhat different appraisal of ECR, branding some of its members "racist, xenophobic and homophobic" not to mention Eurosceptic, in contravention of Fianna Fail's pro-Europe stance.

Crowley didn't allude to it in his statement, but some of his new political colleagues have pretty extreme views. Most glaringly, the Cork MEP will now be hobnobbing with criminals, as one-third of his Danish People's Party and the True Finns counterparts have convictions.

One earned his criminal record for publishing material that linked multiethnic society to rape, while the other claimed that Islam "reveres paedophilia".

Poland's Law and Justice Party, also a member of the ECR, went through turmoil in 2010 when its then leader left the party, saying it had been taken over by right-wing extremists.

Also thrown in for good measure is Latvia's Fatherland and Freedom party, which is associated with an annual Waffen SS memorial, despite calls for the event to be banned by Jewish groups.

The fact that a member of Fianna Fail, which proudly brands itself a republican party, is now allied to the Tories and the Ulster Unionist Party will also leave some people scratching their heads.

Included among the ranks of the bewildered are members of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party, from which Crowley has now been expelled, with chief whip Sean O Fearghail describing the ECR as a "crowd of headbangers".

But will the 180,000 people in Ireland South who gave Crowley their first-preference feel similarly perplexed and betrayed?

Crowley clearly doesn't think so, with his statement confidently predicting that his "new group will allow (him to) work more effectively for (his) constituents". Regrettably, he fails to expand on how an alliance with ECR will make him a more effective MEP.

Perhaps the reasoning is that as long as he continues to sort out medical cards and potholes for voters back home, they will overlook the actual policies of the ECR, which run counter to those of Fianna Fail (the party ticket he ran on), not to mention the fringe elements of his new political home in the EU.

Perhaps they will. Unique in a European context, ideology has long been almost entirely divorced from Irish politics.

Instead of having a left and right divide, for nearly 100 years we have had a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail divide – and considering both parties have almost identical centre-right policy platforms, there has been no real divide at all.

In fact, the main political parties are so utterly insipid that the only way to distinguish a speech between Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin would be the inclusion of the phrase, 'the best small country in the world to do business'.

Maybe this is why they recoil from any attempt to place themselves on the left-right spectrum, with former Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes best expressing this aversion when he cautioned against any form of dreaded "labelism".

Or, as Charlie Haughey once said, "we are neither servants of the right nor prisoners of the left but pragmatists of the centre".

Consequently, Fianna Fail is apparently such a broad church that it can accommodate Bertie the self-dubbed socialist and Brian the Eurosceptic conservative.

Confusion over political parties' ideological leanings routinely results in voters electing right-wing parties and then being horrified when they enact right-wing policies, like the removal of discretionary medical cards by the Fine Gael-led government.

The willingness of smaller parties to enter into coalition governments, and have any shred of distinguishing ideology stripped away, means the alternative for voters is a Hobson's choice.

Latterly we have seen supposed left-wing ideologues Labour, champions of political reform, appoint a failed by-election candidate to a state board, the kind of unabashed patronage party members used to loudly rail against in relation to Fianna Fail.

So, when no matter whom you vote for, you get the same thing, what is the point of politics?

This is likely the reason that many Irish people are content to support the parish pump political system, where nothing really changes but at least the road has fewer potholes.

But, perhaps if we were more concerned with policy and less with personality, the country would be a better place for everyone to live in.

Until that happens, Crowley can probably join whatever EU bloc he likes. As long as he remains a faithful errand boy for his constituents, ideology is immaterial.

Colette Brown

Irish Independent

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