Saturday 10 December 2016

'Battle of Ballymahon' report made to gardaí as deadline expires

Deirdre Reynolds and Sarah Stack

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

Deputy James Bannon canvasses voters in Killashee, Co Longford. Photos: Mark Condren
Deputy James Bannon canvasses voters in Killashee, Co Longford. Photos: Mark Condren

Three o'clock came and went in the Midlands yesterday, but there was no apology from James Bannon to his Sinn Féin constituency rival.

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The Fine Gael TD insisted he was too busy delivering his own canvassing leaflets to pilfer those of Sinn Féin candidate Paul Hogan.

The Fine Gael TD spoke to Gardaí on Monday night after a member of his canvassing team was accused of stealing election leaflets belonging to Mr Hogan from post boxes in a Longford housing estate.

The Sinn Féin councillor vowed to press charges if Mr Bannon didn't apologise by 3pm yesterday as the 'Battle of Ballymahon' raged on.

Mr Hogan gave it another half an hour before he went to Ballymahon Garda Station and made an official statement to gardaí.

He alleges members of Mr Bannon's team stole leaflets from letter boxes. He also told gardaí that Mr Bannon "threatened me with his fists".

Investigation

Gardaí confirmed an investigation is under way.

Mr Bannon denies theft. He was not available last night to put the allegation of a threat to.

Pushing some of his own literature through doors in the village of Killashee, however, the Longford-Westmeath candidate earlier told the Irish Independent he wasn't sorry (about the leaflets).

Mr Bannon said: "What have I to apologise for? Nothing - I have to apologise for nothing."

Returning to the village where his grandmother grew up for some last-minute canvassing, he stood by his earlier explanation that the member of his team was only "reading the leaflet".

"I was accused [of something] when I wasn't even around," he said.

"What happened, I think, a fella that canvasses with me, he just looked at a leaflet and put it back in, and that was it, and they swarmed on him."

Countering allegations that the canvasser's pockets were stuffed with stolen Sinn Féin leaflets, or that he could still be in possession of his competitor's bumph, Mr Bannon continued: "That couldn't be further from the truth.

"You can come up and search the boot of my car."

"I'm not that type of a person. Anyway, I have enough of my own."

On Monday night, Cllr Hogan claimed to have five witnesses who had seen someone they believed to be canvassing for the TD remove his leaflets from post boxes in Creevaghbeg.

Issuing a deadline for an apology, he also threatened to invoke the Electoral Act if the missing material wasn't returned: "I asked [Mr Bannon] is this the sort of dirty tricks you're running?

"It's the lowest of the low," he said at the time.

Last night he stood by his accusations, maintaining that gardaí might bring charges for theft, a more serious count of interfering with letterboxes, or under the Electoral Act for trying to influence the outcome of an election.

"I found I had no option but to go to the gardaí," Cllr Hogan told the Irish Independent, adding that he had given Deputy Bannon and his team ample time to make an apology.

"This has certainly left a bad taste in people's mouths in the area. I think people are disgusted by his behaviour."

Despite the saga. Mr Bannon says he has nothing to fear from his Sinn Fein counterpart.

"He'd have no impact coming from Athlone, you're 50 miles from here," Mr Bannon said.

"My grandmother was born just down the road here in Killashee, I live near Longford. Sure Athlone would be miles away.

Irish Independent

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