*Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) flanked by Senator Timmy Dooley (FF) and TD Cathal Crowe (FF). Photograph: Natasha Barton

TENSIONS between Fianna Fáil’s two Oireachtas representatives have gone up a notch after a critical tweet.

Fianna Fail Senator Timmy Dooley appeared to criticise his party colleague, Cathal Crowe, in a tweet following comments made by the TD on the Ukrainian refugee situation. The pair did not communicate in the days following the tweet but Deputy Crowe subsequent to the publication of this article contacted The Clare Echo to insist that the pair are in fact on speaking terms.

Rivalry is commonplace in politics and ever since the results of the 2020 General Election when first-time candidate Cathal Crowe (FF) was elected and Timmy Dooley (FF) lost his seat, there has been continuous competition between the duo. Examples include the race to share good news on social media but arguably the most pointed of digs came to the surface this week and was even the subject of a brief discussion on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne.

Crowe was the subject of national headlines following a meeting of the Joint Policing Committee (JPC) where he said the county had reached its “capacity” in catering for Ukrainian refugees.

In a twelve minute interview with Clare FM following the meeting, when asked if he would support the introduction of a cap, the TD said he would but has since stressed he regretted using the word cap.

After the quotes were picked up by RTÉ, a tweet from Senator Dooley appeared to criticise his party colleague. “Those who advocate a closure of our country to Ukranian refugees under the pretence that we don’t have enough school places or access to GP’s , should educate themselves to where these people are fleeing from and what they have endured – populism is a nasty disease,” he tweeted.

When doorstepped by The Clare Echo outside Mannix Menswear this week, Senator Dooley said he did not believe Deputy Crowe was a populist and that it was “a subjective term”. “He is around politics a long time, he understands voters, it wouldn’t be aimed at that all but it is recognising that those of us who hold office have a responsibility sometimes to work closely with people and not be pulled in or swayed by the wave of popular activity. There are some in politics who will play every side all of the time and tell people what they want to here, that’s dangerous, it might get votes in the short-term or maybe all of the time but it’s not adding to a cohesiveness in society,” the Mountshannon native commented.

Senator Dooley said the tweet was not directed at Deputy Crowe but followed queries from constituents asking for his stance and whether there should be a cap introduced. “From my perspective you cannot cap people fleeing to save their lives but it doesn’t take from the situation here where we have problems for sure, Irish people have problems as well as do Ukrainians and others who seek refuge here but the answers to their problems is not to exclude one, if I was to respond yes to that then I would believe that to be populist. On my sheet if I was to suggest that then I would have to think I was being populist, I can’t talk for anyone else nor would I because everyone is entitled to their viewpoint, my office is inundated every day with calls for help, some people will say to me that it’s great what Ireland can do for Ukrainians but can we do the same for our own, I will always sit down with them and explain what we’re doing for Irish people and Ukrainian people”.

Dooley admitted that he has lost electoral support over the stance he has taken. “It has become very popular to have a pop at Travellers, settled travellers and the Travelling community, are there problems in the Traveller community for sure there are, are there problems in the settled community there are, are there good people in the settled community and the Traveller community there are, are there bad people in the Traveller community there is, are there bad people in the settled community there is. We’ve got to deal with the people who do wrong and we’ve got to hold them before their law but not to do it on the basis of their background and there’s people who would like to hear politicians say stuff like that but that is dangerous because it gives others the capacity to maybe target them. If you look at what has happened in America, Donald Trump believes in nothing, he stands for nothing but he realised he could get a majority at a particular time by targeting a section of society, electorally it can be advantageous but it damages society, every other President Republic or Democrat straddled that line over the decades and they managed to maintain a cohesiveness in society, often costing them key battles but winning an electoral battle is not what it’s about, there’s a human race that people from all different shapes, sizes, colours, creeds, backgrounds and they all deserve respect regardless of where they come from, that is not at the exclusion of people from here”.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Deputy Crowe said he had “no comment to make” regarding Senator Dooley’s tweet. He did point out, “my comments that grew legs in the media were in response to a presentation given to JPC members on the response to the Ukrainian crisis. I was one of two Oireachtas members present, it would have been worthwhile if all seven were there to hear the feedback”. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne (IND) was the other representative present.

Crowe continued, “This is a humanitarian crisis, the likes of which we hadn’t seen for a long time. It has to be kept separate from politics, results of last election and the election ahead of us. I’m pro refugee, I have a track record in this going back more than sixteen years, in my first year teaching qualifying from Mary Immaculate College, I taught children in the Knockalisheen centre. I have helped eight families from there in court action to stay in the country. On the day I became Mayor of this county, I brought in one of these families to the Council Chamber with me, I could have brought anyone but I was limited to a small amount of people. I’m the only TD since the month of March to have met with Ukrainian people every single week”.

Meelick native Crowe said he received no slap on the wrist from Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) for his views. Subsequent to the meeting, he received “an awful lot of emails” in his constituency office, “some people used language that I wouldn’t agree with high up or low down and had racial undertones which I abhor. Others slated me for my comments, I had a couple of people email me back to say they listened back to my interview and could see where I was coming from”.

On the issue of populism, Senator Dooley expressed his fear that far-right groups are trying to take advantage of the current situation. “The worry I have is that people in authority or people in power have a responsibility to ensure that society doesn’t get divided, there are people coming from hard-right ideology that are trying to use the Ukrainian crisis as a means to divide society, the vast majority of people in Ireland are well meaning, they are not part of any right-leaning ideology, they are not racist and have no interest in it, there are those agitators that are seeking to spread division, they are using soft language to suck people in and that is dangerous, it is incumbent on all of us to be careful in what we say. I can only speak for myself, a lot of people contact me saying we shouldn’t be doing this for Ukrainians or doing this for refugees, I know they are not racist but they are looking at some of the difficulties out there and I always have to remind myself not to jump on that bandwagon or to try to appeal to them in this time of crisis.

“I’ve always been of the view that there are difficult situations that arise where you have to try bring people with you rather than agreeing with them, that is the burden of responsibility that I’ve always taken rather than playing to the lowest common denominator that you try to show leadership and keep people from dividing, that can be difficult and you can be unpopular for a while in trying to do that and that’s why people have to be careful that in an effort to placate people making noise, much of it genuine where they are really concerned that you don’t add fuel to the fire because there are others fanning the flames those that come from a far-right ideology who have no interest in anyone that is not Irish or whatever, the vast majority of people have opened their arms to Ukrainians and it is putting a burden on people and delaying services but the truth of it is that the people who have come from Ukraine are not coming for our schools, yes their kids are in schools but their primary purpose to come here was to save their lives, they arrived here in terror. I saw them on the border and what they endured, I saw where their homes had been bombed, where their neighbours, friends and relations were shot, maimed and bombed then buried in mass graves, if they have to wait a little bit here for some of the services, Ukrainians that I’ve talked to aren’t overly concerned if they have to wait a bit longer than others because what they’re running from is a lot worse than what’s here”.

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