'Siege of Keenagh' drags on with no winner yet in gruelling five-day count
Labour's Willie Penrose and Fine Gael's James Bannon remained neck and neck in Longford-Westmeath last night while a painstaking review of ballot papers continued.
In what has been dubbed the 'Siege of Keenagh', the last two seats of the 32nd Dáil have yet to be filled, with counts, recounts and adjudications continuing for five days.
Tánaiste Joan Burton and Minister Brendan Howlin were at Keenagh count centre in Co Longford to boost the mood of a worried Penrose camp.
Meanwhile, FG's Seán Kyne (Galway West) and Marcella Corcoran Kennedy (Offaly) arrived to offer support to an anxious Mr Bannon, who was at the centre all evening.
Paul McGrath, who held a seat in the constituency for 18 years, was also there to give support to Mr Bannon.
On Tuesday night, it appeared Mr Penrose was ahead, but by yesterday afternoon Mr Bannon appeared to have made gains and the tension grew.
Count officials may have to consider the higher number of first preference votes to make a determination, which would give the Labour candidate a distinct advantage of about 170 votes. The two outgoing TDs live less than 6km apart.
An emotional Mr Penrose, who has topped the poll for Labour since the 1992 'Spring tide', conceded defeat on Saturday night, only to see transfers increase his chances the next day.
Mr Penrose suffered from the backlash against Labour and was also damaged by anger over the closure of Mullingar army barracks, but he was back in contention by Sunday afternoon.
Underdog Connie Gerety-Quinn, a Longford Fianna Fáil candidate, was excluded on Monday night after achieving a respectable vote in the four-seater constituency.
After her votes were distributed in the 13th round, Independent Kevin 'Boxer' Moran was elected, leaving Mr Penrose lagging behind Mr Bannon by just 19 votes.
Fianna Fáil's Robert Troy took the first seat.
The 55,000 valid poll has seen 30pc of Longford votes go to Westmeath candidates and five days of marathon counts and recounts, with one going on until 4am.
The slim margin between the two narrowed after the recounted and queried votes were checked yesterday.
But last night ballot papers were still being scrutinised and it was unclear who was ahead.
Both Mr Penrose and Mr Bannon lag behind Sinn Féin candidate Paul Hogan, who was supported in the count centre by his party colleagues, TD Pearse Doherty and MEP Matt Carty.
Not only was Mr Penrose fighting to save his political career, but his seat in the Dáil was desperately needed by the Labour Party, on the brink of parliamentary obscurity, to keep their speaking rights in Leinster House.
Mr Bannon was also hoping to save his Dáil career and prevent Longford being left without a TD of its own.