South MEP candidate, Brian Crowley discusses milk quotas, the beef industry and knocking on people’s doors, writes Sinead Keane.
Standing on a constituents doorstep, hand poised over the bell is not quite the same experience for Fianna Fáil candidates as it was during the last election. “There is definitely not the same level of anger,” says Brian Crowley, MEP for the South Constituency. “There is far more openess now to actually discussing issues and recognising that, maybe, what we (FF) said all those years ago, was not totally incorrect.”
As Ireland’s longest-serving MEP, Crowley has spent a remarkable amount of time canvassing and meeting people across Munster. When you knock on a person’s door, he says, you really gain an insight into their lives, and often, in the current climate, see how badly they have been affected. “People are uncertain about their own future and worried for their children – what their future will be, what will be there for them?”
At the time of interview, his party is sitting equal to its main opposition in popularity polls, Fine Gael, a position he feels runs deeper than reaction to the Garda tape controversory. “I think this is a recognition of the failings of the present Government’s dealings. Ultimately for Ireland, unless we get a deal on the reduction of our bank debt, a write-off of our bank debt, we will continue to face problems running our economy on a day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year basis.”
Brian is focused on finding solutions and finds his link to Europe invaluable in terms of problem solving and sharing ideas. “From my experience, if there is a problem in Ireland that can be solved in Ireland, then there is a similar problem somewhere in France and the same solution can be used.” Many of the conversations he has centre around local issues and the key concerns in the south are the same as in the rest of rural Ireland: unemployment; emigration; a reduction in services; and, quite simply, not having enough money to live.
It is local issues and subsequently local elections, as opposed to European, ones that concern people the most, which Brian acknowledges. “For most people, it is their day-to-day lives and the immediacy of what they have to deal with – so, they see their local councillors as more important for ensuring that their water and sewerage are working and effects other concerns in their daily lives.” However, he is quick to point out that Ireland has become more engaged in Europe over the past few years – mainly as a result of necessity. “There is recognition of the necessity of Ireland being part of the EU, despite the difficulties we have with some decisions that they make, and some of the austerity measures that were forced on Ireland,” he explains. “We would not have survived over the past few years without the support of the EU or the European Central Bank.”
Proceed With Caution
Looking back to 1973, when Ireland joined the EU, the agricultural landscape painted a different picture than that of today: around 30 per cent of the workforce was involved in agriculture, producing animals to export directly to Britian, rather than the innovative foods and value-added products of today, Crowley remarks. He is proud of the strength of the agri-food industry and its ability to embrace what is both natural and local to Ireland. Saying that, there are two areas that raise particular concern for those in the industry. The first is potentially adding further threat to an already-tumultuous beef industry. “We must be cautious with regard to a proposed trade deal with South America, which could potentially have a negative impact on our beef industry as it could allow unfettered access from the Brazilian beef market into the EU,” warns Crowley. “Access without the guaranetees of quality control and welfare control that we demand of our own farmers here.”
A potential loss of income to Ireland could, according to the MEP, arise from the roll-out of the EU Rural Development (LEADER) initiative, as the Government has agreed to deliver it under the leadership of the Local Authorities. “This is totally contrary to the premise of the LEADER plan, which was to empower people on the ground to make decisions for themselves,” says Crowley. “We need to be careful –
by attempting to centralise and localise, we are taking power away from the people.”
Does Crowley, representative of the dairy-strong South of Ireland think farmers are ready for the upcoming abolition of milk quotas? “There is a lot more work left and it is not that far away anymore,” he states. “One of the big things is that there is still no final agreement as to how you will value a litre of milk from the producer, or what they (farmers) will be given.”