Invincibility and disengagement shaped Crowley’s decision to switch grouping

Opinion: Fianna Fáil MEP is most successful Irish election candidate ever

‘Brian Crowley MEP always resented efforts by Mount Street apparatchiks and senior party figures to manage the vote between candidates in the European elections.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

‘Brian Crowley MEP always resented efforts by Mount Street apparatchiks and senior party figures to manage the vote between candidates in the European elections.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Sat, Jun 28, 2014, 13:22

Coverage of election results inevitably focuses on the last seats filled. It follows that until this week Brian Crowley’s predictable win in Ireland South got insignificant attention.

Crowley is actually the most successful Irish election candidate ever. While a few have, in presidential elections for example, got higher votes in individual contests, nobody has matched Crowley for sustained vote share over multiple elections.

In 1993 Albert Reynolds parachuted Crowley into the national political arena by nominating him to the Seanad. Reynolds was a political friend of Brian’s father Flor, who was a TD for 13 years and a senator for five. It was assumed the Seanad appointment was a precursor to a Dáil run by Brian himself.

A year later Crowley, then only 30, ran instead in the European elections, topping the poll in the Munster constituency with 84,463 votes, 23 per cent of all votes cast.

Youthful good looks

His success at that time was put down to a combination of youthful good looks, a massive province-wide canvass where voters flocked out of their houses to meet him as he rolled down their street and an innovative political marketing strategy which owed more to modern American design than traditional Fianna Fáil approaches.

Crowley’s 1994 vote looked impressive until he nearly doubled it five years later, polling 154,195 votes.

Notwithstanding constituency redrawings he has managed to top the poll each time he has run. His vote share never fell below 23 per cent and once peaked at 34 per cent.

Crowley just has the political X factor. He is personable and has an extraordinary back story of overcoming adversity. He has a competent media and parliamentary style and an inordinate capacity for attending political and non-political gatherings across his large constituency.

He has also put in place a formal network of offices across the constituency and an informal network of hundreds of party and non-party campaign operatives.

Electoral feat

Notwithstanding the general Fianna Fáil collapse since 2009, the lengthy hospitalisations he had to endure in recent years and the tragic loss of his brother and campaign manager Flor Jnr, Crowley pulled off an even more impressive electoral feat last month.

In the newly extended Ireland South constituency, which now includes six Leinster counties, Crowley polled an incredible 180,329 votes.

The size of this renewed mandate must inevitably have contributed to Crowley’s sense of political invincibility, and because he was returned as the only Fianna Fáil MEP he had no party colleagues in the parliament to consider and clearly felt he could do whatever he wanted in terms of political groupings.

He has never felt himself bound to the diktats of party headquarters back in Dublin, from whom he always felt detached and from whom he has been entirely disengaged in recent years.

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