IF the definition of a genial rascal means someone who doesn't follow orders and who pursues his own interests, Brian Crowley MEP is one of the most daring scamps of recent times â if for no other reason than for the way he gets up Fianna FÃ¡il's collective nose.
Â Paralysed from the waist down as a teenager and currently recovering from serious hip and leg operations, the Bandon man is getting a lot of media attention at the moment. Â
His failure to attend the Euro-parliament for the past three years on account ofÂ illness has brought to the surface rather carping fault-finding â particularly from MicheÃ¡l Martin's right-hand man in Waterford, Kieran Hartley, a former Ireland South candidate in the European elections.
Â Mr Hartley wrote on three occasions to the FF leader, demanding that he âaddress the matter' of Crowley's absence from the Euro-parliament. He recently told the Indo that three years was âa very respectable amount of time to let anybody recover, in any walk of life'.
Â And while Mr Hartley's comments might be considered insensitive in some quarters, others assert that the West Cork MEP should resign if he can't do the job. They point to the fact that Fianna FÃ¡il has no-one representing it in Europe at the very moment Brexit looms on the horizon.Â
Â Yet, although Martin dumped Crowley from the parliamentary party some years ago (he remains a rank and file member), the FF leader's response was humane.Â He said that Crowley's office continued to provide a full range of services to constituents, and âhe wished Brian well'.
Not that the ordinary punter is bothered at his lack of attendance at the Euro parliament â a place that impinges marginally, if at all, on the lives of Irish citizens. It's not like the DÃ¡il and has no power of legislative initiative in the sense that it cannot propose new laws. (It can only ratify them, and it is the European Commission that drafts, introduces, enforces and monitors new legislation).
Â And, as we all know, the pay isn't bad. An ordinary Joe Soap MEP earns a basic â¬101,808 a year, plus hugely generous travel exes, and a daily subsistence allowance.Â
According to the Daily Express, an MEP who makes full use of his allowances can trouser a nifty â¬800 a week without doing anything improper, and with no questions asked.
Â Mr Hartley's criticism, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the EU gravy-train. He's highlighting a matter of political significance: the undesirability of not having any Fianna FÃ¡il MEP to represent the Ireland South constituency at a crucial moment in history.
Under EU regulations for replacement candidates, if an MEP dies or resigns, the vacancy is filled by a person that the party designated at the time of election and who, in an emergency, is willing to assume the role of MEP.
Â In this case, that's Mr Hartley himself!Â He's the official FF substitute. Of course, Mr Crowley has no intention of resigning from politics.Â What's more, he is immensely popular. In the 2014 Euro election he enjoyed a massive 30% vote (180,000 first preferences) whereas Hartley got a derisory 2%. Crowley simply needs convalescence time before bouncing back into the cut and thrust of EU politics.
Indeed, several FF deputies were somewhat uncomfortable with Mr Hartley's intervention, describing it as âinappropriate' and âover-eager'.
Â That aside, it is a fact that because of his illness Mr Crowley is no longer a member of two fairly important parliamentary committees: the environment, public health and food safety committee, and the internal market and consumer protection committee.
Â But as with all political controversies, there is a context within a context. Complicating relations between Crowley and Fianna FÃ¡il is Crowley's refusal to join the Euro parliament's so called âliberal' group, ALDE, the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats (not to be confused with the supermarket chain) to which the Soldiers of Destiny are affiliated.
Â On election in 2014, the Bandon poll-topper switched from ALDE to join the even more right-wing, Euro-sceptic and anti-federalist group ECR (the European Conservatives and Reformists Group).Â
He did so for reasons that are not at all clear and, for his daring, Martin booted him out of the Fianna FÃ¡il parliamentary party. Â
Â The decision to expel the party's only MEP meant that it no longer had any presence, or influence, among MEPs and decision makers in the European Parliament. (FG holds four seats, SF has three, while the remainder are held by Brian Crowley and three Independents: Nessa Childers, Marian Harkin and Luke âMing' Flanagan).
Â An irate Martin described Crowley's new friends in ECR as âfar right, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-European Union' and, in an observation that had West Cork guffawing, he said they were ânot in any shape or form compatible with our Republican views'.
Â Curiously, ALDE in 2009 was one of the two leading parties of the now defunct Union for Europe of Nations, many of whose constituent parties were dyed-in-the-wool extremists, such as Italy's Lega Nord and the âFor Fatherland and Freedom' party whose members marched in Riga every year to commemorate Latvian Waffen-SS veterans.
A possible explanation for Crowley's defiance may have had its roots in Martin's apparent bungled attempt to split Crowley's huge personal vote and redistribute it to Kieran Hartley's advantage in the 2014 Euro elections.
Â Which, if true, did nothing to enhance Mickey's political reputation in West Cork, indicating also that the wannabe Taoiseach may not understand the political phenomenon that Crowley is.Â
Â He is independent in the sense that he takes no guff or nonsense from official Fianna FÃ¡il. He also has such a remarkable talent for hoovering up votes that another stab at becoming President of Ireland cannot be dismissed easily. Martin would be foolish to underestimate his essential and distinguishing political attributes.
Â We wish Mr Crowley well in this unseemly squabble.
FOUNTAIN OF KNOWLEDGE
A major controversy is bubbling in Cork City Council. Where's the historic 19th-century fountain that the Reverend Nicholas Dunscombe kindly gave to the people of Cork in the 1800s which, for more than a century, graced the bottom of Shandon Street?
Â In the late 1970s it was mysteriously removed and never heard of again. It simply vanished and, from all accounts, the Corpo couldn't care less!Â But not the Northsiders.Â They want their fountain back, as does Fianna FÃ¡il's Cllr Kenneth O'Flynn. He's offering a â¬100 cheque (made out, natch, with a fountain pen) for information regarding the whereabouts of Cork's version of the Trevi Fountain.
Â But Leeside wags already are commenting that for a reward of that size, all that Cllr Flynn is likely to get is a birdbath!