This weekend, unlike many of his political opponents, the West Cork man isn’t out canvassing per se but, in the words of his campaign manager, is doing “lots of clinic-type meetings with people and groups who have specific issues or problems”. That is his stock in trade, working his sprawling Ireland South constituency weekend in and weekend out.
But the last few years have been gruelling for the 50-year-old from Bandon who lost his brother, Flor, a father-of-three, in a car accident in 2012. Last year, it emerged he himself had gone through 25 surgeries in the two years previous due to ongoing health problems associated with being in a wheelchair for the past 34 years. “He’s been through hell and back,” said one seasoned West Cork political commentator.
So what makes Brian Crowley such a popular politician? Certainly he has never been one craven to traditional media, never mind social media as he pointed out on RTÉ Radio this week. Politicians of all shades point repeatedly to his charm, conceding he has “charisma in buckets”. One former TD said: “If he would canvass my town twice a week, I’d go out with him as people love him”.
Some describe him as the ‘Peter Pan of European politics’ due to his boyish charm and looks. “He also just comes across as genuine when you talk to him. Both men and women like him and he will always get votes from people who would never otherwise vote Fianna Fáil, ” said one West Cork veteran. ” He is just able to relate to people and that is invaluable”.
Born in 1964, he is a wheelchair user since the age of 16 after an accidental fall from a building left him paralysed from the hips down. A number of years later he survived another near-death experience in a car accident.
His father Flor was a much-loved West Cork TD but it was Albert Reynolds who brought Crowley into politics as a senator in 1994.
Crowley has always marketed ‘Brand Crowley’ brilliantly, often seeming somewhat ‘semi-detached’ from Fianna Fáil, selling himself rather than the party and thereby ensuring his vote spread. Bringing a second Fianna Fáil candidate over the line has never been a core objective of his, much to the chagrin of party headquarters.
There are some who like to snidely refer to his ‘wheelchair vote’. Even Fine Gael and Labour TDs shake their head at this, acknowledging, if anything, there is “this huge regard at how he has got over such a tough disability”.
Men, they say, admire “his courage” and an attitude that “never sees him feeing sorry for himself”. He’s also known as a great singer and often takes part in music sessions and sing songs in West Cork bars by night.
But nobody downplays the mega electoral team and family support he has behind him either.
“There would be a real loyalty to him and that his absence at parliament because of his bad health lately could be publicised as a black mark? That will not go down well with those who will always give him number one,” said another West Cork politician.
There are some who have suggested former GAA president Seán Kelly could dent Crowley’s vote this time around. But polls don’t hold this up. Crowley hasn’t kept his presidential ambitions secret but ill-health and more so, Fianna Fáil’s financial misfortunes put paid to them last time around. The big question is will he finally make that move in 2018?