Reacting furiously, party chairman Brendan Smith said Mr Crowley was aligning himself to policies and political parties that directly contradicted core principles of Fianna Fáil.
“These include the group’s Eurosceptic stance and its position on membership of the eurozone,” said a statement from Mr Smith and the party’s whip Seán Ó Fearghaíl. “Indeed, a number of the parties in this right-wing grouping stand in direct opposition to Fianna Fáil’s republican ethos and tradition.”
Mr Crowley broke his news from his hospital bed in Cork, where he has been undergoing surgery.
Fianna Fáil said a number of parties in the European Conservatives and Reformists group are in direct opposition to their ethos and tradition. Some want to see Germany leave the euro; at least one has a criminal record for racism; while the Tories are threatening to leave the EU.
Mr Crowley’s decision also tips the balance in the parliament itself, making the ECR the third largest group by two seats and pushing the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, his previous group, into fourth.
The West Cork politician and Fianna Fáil were members of the Eurosceptic UEN group up to 2009, when Mr Crowley was its joint president. Its secretary general, Frank Barrett, is now secretary general of the ECR and is understood to have paved the way for the move. Mr Crowley successfully fought against Fianna Fáil joining ALDE in 2004, but Brian Cowen insisted in 2009.
Mr Crowley, Ireland’s longest-serving MEP and sole Fianna Fáil member in the parliament, said the move will allow him provide a better service for his constituents and will protect jobs of two Irish staff in Brussels. Mr Crowley, who had one of the poorest attendance records in the parliament due to illness over the past five years, was the only Irish MEP who did not have personal assistants in Brussels, where they are paid for by the parliament. However, his spokesperson clarified that he was referring to two Irish staff working with ALDE who will now be taken on by ECR.
Fianna Fáil said it will remain a committed member of ALDE, although this means for the first time since Ireland joined the EU the party will not be aligned with any political group.