News John Downing

Thursday 18 September 2014

Crowley's move raises new doubt on Martin's authority

Published 24/06/2014 | 02:30

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

IN A funny way, this one is Garret FitzGerald's fault. The Christian Democrat EPP group would have been Fianna Fail's natural home in European Union politics. But in 1976, when the EPP was being formed, Fine Gael's soon-to-be leader, Garret FitzGerald, got there first and in the process slammed the door on Fianna Fail.

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Over Ireland's 40-plus years of EU membership, few people have paid much attention to Fianna Fail's periodic quests for a political home.

The reality was that Fine Gael and Labour, through their membership with the other big group, the Socialists, had better access at crucial times to the big power blocs in Brussels and the other capitals.

Fianna Fail had a linkage with the French Gaullists and others in various small groupings.

But party leader and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and later Brian Cowen, made various efforts to anchor Fianna Fail in a more mainstream grouping, a move disliked and obstructed by some of their MEPs, notably Gerard Collins and Brian Crowley.

In March/April 2009, Brian Cowen succeeded and Fianna Fail joined the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe (ALDE), otherwise known as the Liberal grouping.

It was not a perfect fit as the mainland European Liberal parties were traditionally about minimising church power and promoting freebooting market capitalism.

Fianna Fail had found a good political home in the European Parliament's third largest group, which at the time had links with five prime ministers and 10 EU Commissioners.

However, this move from the fringes to the centre was not to Brian Crowley's taste as he had been happier in the old, smaller Europe of the Nations' grouping.

Mr Crowley made his dissatisfaction known, especially when a Swedish Liberal member made some strident pro-abortion statements – just as Ireland was about to hold a second referendum on the EU Lisbon Treaty. But Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher took over as head of the Fianna Fail Euro group of three MEPs and life trundled on.

The development this week is different. Super poll-topper Mr Crowley is now Fianna Fail's only MEP and his conduct in last month's elections has showed what an independent republic he really is.

His announcement yesterday that he was joining the European Conservative and Reformist Group has finally brought the issue of Fianna Fail's EU political home on to the national agenda.

Mr Crowley has said this was about jobs for two Fianna Fail back-up staff in Brussels, which were in doubt because Fianna Fail dropped from three to one MEP. But yesterday, Micheal Martin's office insisted that, following talks, the Liberals were happy to guarantee the continuance of the two Fianna Fail staffers' jobs.

Fianna Fail has made it clear the party cannot line up with people like the Danish People's Party, the True Finns, the Alternative for Germany and the Flemish National Party.

Collectively, these groups strike a decidedly Eurosceptic note with a range of views that would certainly embarrass Fianna Fail on the home front.

It all opens up yet another front for the embattled Fianna Fail leader with another question mark over his authority.

Mr Martin may have no option but to seek Brian Crowley's expulsion from the parliamentary party when it meets today.

Irish Independent

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