BRIAN Crowley says he will apologise to his electorate for not attending European Parliament for the past four years – if that’s what they feel they need.
But the Bandon man insists he’s been as open as he can about his absence from public life since 2014, and said he never misled his constituency of Ireland South about his health which confined him to a hospital bed in CUH for the past three-and-a-half years, undergoing 30 major surgeries.
The 54-year-old, who has been paralysed from the hips down since a fall from a roof aged 16, announced, as expected, at a press conference last Thursday, that he won’t be running in May’s European elections. He’ll return to Brussels next month, before stepping aside from public life in May.
His absence from parliament for four years, despite still being paid a monthly salary of €8,484.05, and his decision not to step aside earlier, had attracted criticism from some quarters.
But in what was an honest, no-holds-barred press conference in the Rochestown Park Hotel, he asked: ‘Do you think lying in bed for three-and-a-half years was what I wanted? That it didn’t hurt me? That it didn’t affect me? But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t make contributions.’
He said work didn’t stop in hospital and he worked through his office in Cork, the Group Secretariat in the European Parliament, and his numerous contacts in other political groups and the Commission in Brussels.
He also faced rigorous questioning from the media over his voting record and was asked if he was fair to Ireland South as his voting record ranks 751st out of 751 – the worst ranking in the current parliament.
He acknowledged: ‘Yes, people did deserve better and I tried to do my best.’
‘If you go back over the last 25 years, I’m in the top 10. When circumstances were different, I was a full participant. I didn’t want to be in hospital in bed not being able to go out and do my job. It was frustrating for me. I love my job. I loved what I was doing. I loved the excitement every single day that I was in in Strasburg and Brussels defending Ireland’s interests and doing things for Ireland and I still believe I can do that, and that’s what I hope to continue doing up until the end of my term.’
When asked if it was irresponsible to run in 2014 when he was aware of his health history, having been hospitalised over the previous two years, and if he should apologise now, he said:
‘In 2014 when I ran I didn’t have a health problem; everything was cured; everything was sorted … I wasn’t misleading the public. I told people when I was out of work in 2012 and 2013 why and what happened … I never said this wasn’t going to be a problem again. I said this was an ongoing issue I had to watch out for.’
But he asked did that mean he should have stopped working and shouldn’t have put himself forward?
‘If people feel they need an apology, I apologise. But what I’m saying is I went in with my eyes wide open, and I thought I told the people, with their eyes wide open, what my problems were and what they could be in the future. I never hid that this may be a problem in the future.’
Defending being paid while not in parliament, he said he had ‘abided by the rules.’
‘I’m paid for the job that I do; the performance of my job is judged by the people in elections – the salary is what it is, office expenses and staff expenses (monthly sum of €4,342) come directly from parliament, I don’t get that money at all.’
When asked if he should have considered a reduced salary while on sick leave, he said: ‘Rules are the rules, I abided by the rules totally. Every month I sent in a sick cert to the medical services of parliament and continued to do so and every so often my consultants would prepare a report that went to parliament medical services as well, and they were happy with that.’
Explaining his health issues, and apologising for the gory details, he said that since his accident in 1980 his muscle tone, blood circulation and bone density have been affected. One of the risks is that the skin gets more fragile, and if it breaks, it’s harder for it to repair. ‘Break downs in my skin were occurring; before they became a problem on the surface they had occurred deep down which I wasn’t aware of, so it was a much bigger problem so the solution was surgery.’
Procedures involved skin transfers and transfer of muscle as well as liposuction to bulk up the affected area.
‘I went into hospital in June 2014 under the impression I’d go in, get the surgery, recover a month, two months, and get back to work. That was the plan, that’s what happened previously and what worked previously.
‘Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, and I had more and more surgery. And I always thought the next one was going to be the solution, I genuinely believed it – I believed in medicine.
‘Nobody was more disappointed than I am. If you look at my legs and thighs and hips and calves, it’s like a relief map of Ireland before the Ice Age, there’s bumps and tears and cuts. That was all part of it, but I was willing to go through with it as I thought that would solve the problem.
‘But I was never so sick I couldn’t talk or function. Now the situation is I still have one single open wound, that’s not as bad as it was, that can be maintained by dressings. I still have to watch out how I’m sitting etc, but that’s part of the normal precautions I was doing every day up to now anyway so my health is very good except for this one continuing condition.’
Brian said he was standing down because he couldn’t run the campaign he wanted to run. It would require sitting up for 15 or 16 hours a day, driving and having long days and nights.
Speaking to The Southern Star, said he got through the prolonged hospital stay by reading, listening to the radio and podcasts and through prayer and devotion, especially to Our Lady.
Regarding the future, he has no plans, but it won’t involve public life.
‘I’m okay with my decision. I don’t dwell on things, there are more important things in life than what happens to me. I see people suffering and going through hardships. I’ve had family members who lost their lives – that’s far more important than anything that happens to me. So this is easy in that sense. Now, will I miss it? Yes, of course I will, because I love my job. From the first day I ever did it, I loved it. It was a privilege to get that responsibility and opportunity.’
He admitted there will be a major void now in his life but was confident ‘something will happen.’
‘Life is too fickle and too short to plan that far ahead. Before this press conference, there was a number of people I wanted to contact who were with me from day one – helped me out when I started out back in 1994. There were 36 names I wanted to contact, and of them 17 were dead. Now that’s fairly levelling.
‘So I don’t know what I’m going to do. Something will turn up and I’ll make fun out of it, and have fun with it and enjoy it.’
Brian Crowley on ...
His expulsion from Fianna Fáil:
Brian explained for the first time why he switched groups in the European Parliament in 2014, which led to his expulsion from the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party.
He said that he was forced to leave the FF aligned ALDE group, and join the ECR, after they failed to agree employment contracts for some existing Irish staff.
‘I took a principled stand at the time on behalf of fellow Irish workers who were being treated badly regarding employment contracts. These were not my staff but I negotiated on their behalf until those negotiations broke down.
‘I was disappointed at being expelled from my party without being given an opportunity to explain why I had to leave the ALDE Group, as I was in hospital at the time. But I don’t regret putting people before party, whatever the consequences. I hold no grudge or no bitterness.’
The hospital crisis:
His prolonged hospital stay meant he saw how staff worked ‘so hard and strived so hard to make things better under horrible conditions.’ Some 60 and 70% of the young nurses he saw graduating were going abroad because they didn’t see an opportunity here. It didn’t make sense, he said, spending money training people who were anxious to work and bringing in agency workers or people from abroad instead. ‘We all know there are problems and there will always be those difficulties but the first thing you have to do is to make sure people are happy in what they’re doing; and some are distraught at the conditions they have to work in.’
His relationship with Micheál
Brian and leader Micheál Martin haven’t spoken since July 2014 but the Bandon man insists they are not enemies – although he didn’t personally inform him of decision to step down.
He said the fellow Corkman would have learned that from the news headlines and when asked if he couldn’t have picked up the phone to inform him he said: ‘To say what? I believe he’s enough stuff on his own plate.’
Brian was expelled from the parliamentary party in 2014 for switching groups in the European parliament but is still a member of the FF organisation.
However, he said: ‘Micheál is doing a fantastic job in very difficult
On hearing the tributes paid to him by the party leader after his announcement he said it was ‘lovely to be recognised.’
‘Micheál has a job to do, he had to make a decision on my decision as leader of the party and I accept that fully.’
Describing himself as ‘born and bred FF’ he’ll said he’ll remain a member of the organisation. ‘Even though I may disagree with people and policy at different times, hopefully when I pass on to the great beyond I’ll pass on as a FF member.’
He said the fact that Ireland South may now be a five-seater post-Brexit in no way tempted him to run again.
‘You run elections to win, and I’ve always run my campaign on a personal basis that I want to go out and meet as many people as possible. If I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t run, simple as that.’
He wouldn’t comment on Billy Kelleher as a potential candidate to replace him and said emphatically: ‘The party will decide in due time and I’ll wait for them.
‘Part of the reason for doing the press conference at this time was that no selection convention had been called by FF so there’s still an open field for people to get their name out there.’
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