“If I saw Mr Haughey buried at midnight at a crossroads with a stake driven through his heart, politically speaking, I should continue to wear a clove of garlic around my neck, just in case.”
Thus wrote the late Conor Cruise O’Brien in 1982 about former taoiseach Charles J Haughey. O’Brien was referring to Haughey’s ability to make political comebacks and that it was always a mistake to write him off.
The same could be said of Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael J Crowe. I am sure the Bohermore man will not appreciate the comparison with Charles J Haughey, but (apart from the J in the middle of their names ) they have that one thing in common - being written off too quickly only to defy the expectations.
Think about it. In the 2004 Local Elections nobody saw the then Independent candidate Crowe coming - no politician and no pundit. People with years’ experience were saying in the run up to polling day that he had “peaked too early” and “wouldn’t do anything”.
Days later he stormed to the top of the poll in the North and East Ward while longer serving councillors struggled to hold on and big names were rejected by the electorate.
In 2006, few thought he would be selected to run in Galway West ahead of Cllr Mary Hoade and Cllr Seamus Walsh but he was and put in a credible performance in the following General Election, lasting until the final count, and only 900 votes behind Frank Fahey.
Over the last few weeks, there has been talk that Cllr Crowe might be sidelined by FF HQ because he was ‘yesterday’s man’ and would be unlikely to retain his seat in June’s Local Elections.
On the surface, this analysis is plausible.
Fianna Fáil will get an almighty kicking from the electorate for failing to see the coming economic downturn, for providing no leadership in a time of financial crisis, and for delivering an ill-conceived ‘hit the vulnerable’ budget.
All three FF councillors in the city will suffer a fall in their vote. Cllr Crowe is more vulnerable given that is in the new Galway City East ward minus his core base (and possibly 300-350 votes ) of Bohermore, College Road, Lough Atalia. The ward is also a six seater - down one from 2004 - and he will be under pressure from a confident Labour Party.
These are issues of real concern to Cllr Crowe and he knows he cannot take his seat for granted, however, it is still far from impossible for him to win a seat.
No one should write off Cllr Crowe as he, and maybe his brother Ollie, could defy the inevitable FF meltdown at the polls next year by making sure the party retains its three seats in City Hall and quizás, quizás, quizás (as the song goes ), nick a fourth. How so?
Cllr Crowe entered politics as an Independent who later joined Fianna Fáil. For some that action is unforgivable and their votes are lost.
Conversely, being a former Independent may do him less harm with others. They may see him as a ‘little bit less’ FF than his ward colleague Cllr Mary Leahy. As such she may feel any voter backlash a bit more given that FF is a toxic brand right now. Cllr Crowe’s Independent past may be considered more palatable to the all important floating voters.
The vote that propelled Cllr Crowe to the top spot in 2004 was a personal vote. That would have come regardless of whether he stood as Independent, FF, FG, Green, etc. He will secure a personal vote again, and in local elections, the personal vote is nearly more important than the party vote.
Cllr Crowe had with him in 2004 an extraordinary and dedicated machine that worked day and night to get the vote out and secure him his seat. Although he is a member of FF now, that same machine, with the same personnel, is there and this time they have two elections worth of experience behind them. That will stand to Cllr Crowe.
He may yet have to fight for one of the final two seats in Galway City East, but Cllr Crowe still has a few aces up his sleeve.
What of his brother Ollie?
Ollie Crowe (and former mayor Martin Quinn ) is seeking the right to be Cllr John Connolly’s running mate in Galway City Central. Interviews were held in the Galway Bay Hotel last week and a decision on who will run will be made in the New Year.
This four seat ward is ‘The Group of Death’ with heavyweight sitting councillors Padraig Conneely, Billy Cameron, John Connolly, and Colette Connolly all running again.
These four are all located on the western side of the ward and will be ‘drinking from the same trough’ of votes. Ollie Crowe, if selected, would stand in largely free eastern section with Bohermore to himself.
As a Bohermore man and even better known than Michael, Ollie would clean up here securing a personal vote and possibly a substantial one - regardless of the fact that he is running for FF. If a good transfer pact is worked out with Cllr John Connolly, this would be a good boost to help John secure his seat.
Some feel that if Ollie Crowe could secure a strong enough vote himself he and Cllr Connolly could do a pincer movement on Labour’s Cllr Colette Connolly and dislodge her, thereby securing two for FF - despite the current climate.
It is true that within Labour and without, Cllr Colette Connolly is seen as very vulnerable but the Connollys have a wide network of family and friends which means they should never be ruled out - as the Crowes never should be either.