Keep Calm and Carry On: it's brave faces all round as party plays down shock switch
FIANNA Fail deputies were doing their darndest to look unconcerned. Insouciant, even. And nonchalant.
But make no mistake – they're all sick as parrots over the dramatic defection of one of their star players, MEP and King of the South Brian Crowley, to a rival team in the Euros. It's a humiliation akin to Brazil's Neymar suddenly shedding his yellow shirt and announcing he's off to score goals for Iran.
After all, there had been precious little good news for the party to glean from the European elections last month, what with Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher losing his seat, the retirement of Liam Aylward and the party's failure to grab back toe-hold in Dublin.
But there was always their wonder-lad Brian, invariably hailed as a "vote-getting machine" who harvested a staggering 183,000 first-preference votes and who gave a battered Fianna Fail reason to hope that the party isn't still dead in the electoral ditch.
And then, just when Fianna Fail thought things had simmered down after the recent barneys involving Mary Hanafin in the local elections and the party's justice spokesman and unwise epistolarian Niall Collins, their sole MEP awarded himself a red card and took himself off the pitch.
The party was aghast to learn that Brian had opted not to tog out as expected for ALDE, Fianna Fail's sister party in the European Parliament, but instead had signed up for a new outfit, the European Conservative & Reformists Group (ECR) which includes some members so far to the right that, by comparison, Genghis Khan was a bleeding-heart, pinko liberal.
Yesterday, the TDs and senators strapped on their brave faces around Leinster House and insisted that Brian Crowley wouldn't be that big a loss to them.
"Sure he was hardly an enthusiastic team player anyway – Brian's huge vote was for Brian," remarked one deputy with a shrug.
Inside their parliamentary party pow-wow, the mood was less sanguine, particularly about the ECR – "a crowd of headbangers" was the reportedly succinct summation by the party's whip, Sean O Fearghail. It was a lengthy meeting, with some members keen that Brian – who is in hospital at the moment – should be afforded the opportunity to come before them and explain.
But later, outside the meeting's doors, in front of the media, Sean (inset) was trying to project an air of Keep Calm and Carry On.
"It was a very traumatic experience and a very unexpected development," he admitted.
Sean reckoned "it was really sad – people hold this man in such high regard. I don't know why he did it – I think the most extraordinary aspect of this is the lack of a rationale behind the action he has taken, because they're very much at variance with his statements and his whole political ethos", he said, adding that there hadn't been "one word of support for an alliance with the ECR".
Sean was a one-man show, bopping from radio station to microphone in an effort to keep this piece of drama from spiralling into yet another Fianna-Fail-troops-run-riot-around-the-leader story, wherein Micheal Martin is portrayed as the hapless nursery-maid attempting to prevent the brats from hurling buns around the playroom.
For most of the day, Micheal kept his head down, before finally popping up over the parapet on RTE's 'Six-One News'.
"I think he's made a wrong decision," he reckoned, more in sorrow than in anger.
He didn't have a go – it wouldn't have been wise, given that their former top player is in hospital. But the message from Micheal was clear – as far as Fianna Fail is concerned, Brian has found the back of his own net and has found himself in Mismatch of the Day . . .