The environmentalist supporting farmers and an unlikely hero
Businessman Norman Crowley is frustrated by a lack of effort to help picketing beef farmers, writes Wayne O'Connor
The last place picketing beef farmers would expect to find support is from an environmentalist millionaire businessman who thinks we should move away from the cow and look to vegetables, solar power and green technology to protect Ireland's future.
In Norman Crowley they have found an unlikely ally. He is a man who is not afraid of contradictions.
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He says he will not vote Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, yet supports the building of statues recognising key figures in both parties. He runs an electric car business but admits to having a Range Rover himself, to support a business client. He thinks we should all eat less meat, but does not believe veganism is the answer to the climate emergency.
So why does he support the beef farmers who have been disrupting meat factories in recent weeks?
"Farmers are naturally shy people, most of them," he says. "To picket outside a meat plant, the thing that drives you to that is the theft of your livelihood, not by meat companies - who have some part to play as commercial entities - but the Government has let them down."
The Corkman, a farmer's son, is the owner of Crowley Carbon, a business which helps companies reduce their energy usage. He was a welder by trade, and set up his first business as a teenager by installing automated doors and gates on farms during the 1980s. This eventually grew into a tech business and by the time he reached 29 he had started and sold an internet business, Trinity Commerce, for €18m. He considered retiring but instead set up Inspired Gaming, a broadband-based betting services company. It eventually floated on the London Stock Exchange and was almost sold for $1bn (€900m) before the recession hit and lowered expectations. It was eventually sold for $500m.
Since 2011, Crowley has focused on the environment and this year launched Electrifi, an electric car company.
"If we wanted to continue making money we would have stuck to the gaming because we knew the sector really well and we knew how it worked. Then we looked around for something we could do that would make money, because that is how we roll, but would also have a profound impact.
"The biggest existential threat to the world is its survival and that is climate change. That's why we picked climate change."
Farming traditions here are contributing to the destruction of the planet because farmers are not being given the supports to diversify and expand into areas of new opportunities, he said.
But he believes farmers are being let down by government and their representative bodies.
"In Ireland we are getting really good at innovation but what do we do? We say, 'we'll keep going with the cow. We always did it with the cow. The cow will be OK'.
"The cow isn't OK. Scientifically it isn't OK. Engineering-wise, the cow is a poor converter of food to food. Too much gets converted to methane and waste which damages the planet. The representative bodies, Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture, the IFA, need to look at the reality and stop turning their back on it because they will lose more and more.
"There is no metric anywhere in the world that says they will make more money out of this."
He is angriest at the Government. Yet a statuette of Michael Collins, the man often credited with starting the Fine Gael movement, stands on a desk in his office overlooking the picturesque Powerscourt Gardens in Co Wicklow. It is a replica of a statue erected in Clonakilty. He helped fund it.
"There is a whole slew of stuff the Government could do right now. They could speed up their solar strategy to something above backwards. Their latest climate action plan is a joke - window dressing, and that is all they can do. Think about what they would have had to do if they really wanted to make a change.
"Michael [Collins] would be turning in his grave with all that is going on. We need our heroes. I am not a Fianna Fail supporter or Fine Gael but Brian Lenihan took this country through the worst financial turmoil for 50 years when he was dying of cancer. That to me looks like a modern hero, but he is never mentioned.
"It broke him. Put up a statue of that guy. Will we ever? I doubt it. Imagine the outcry."