Penrose flies the farming flag for the Labour Party at Leinster House
Downing on politics
Published 27/10/2016 | 07:30
"Farmers rarely 'vote Labour' - but that is not to say that Labour candidates don't get farmer votes."
That summation by a Labour veteran at Leinster House came to mind in recent weeks as I watched Willie Penrose in action at the Oireachtas agriculture committee.
The Westmeath man is Labour to the core. But it is estimated that one third of his vote comes from the farming community.
His agricultural background was confirmed last week when EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, came to Leinster House, accompanied by two university contemporaries of Penrose.
Gerry Kiely, previously the IFA lobbyist in Brussels in the 1980s, and who now heads the EU Dublin office, was in Penrose's agricultural science class at UCD.
Kilkenny man Tom Tynan, the Commissioner's key adviser, was a year behind that pair in the same UCD faculty.
It is often overlooked that Willie Penrose holds BA and MA degrees in agricultural science. It is also forgotten that NFA firebrand Richard Deasy stood for Labour in the 1969 general election. That was just after the big farmer protests in 1966.
But Mr Deasy got the sum total of 517 votes. It showed that Labour's insistence that "the 1970s will be socialist" did not resonate at farm level.