Labour pain is pregnant SF Councillor’s gain
- Labour decimated in Westmeath stronghold - Fine Gael also struggle - TR Dallas hangs up Stetson in Penrose country
Westmeath County Council has been dominated by the Labour Party since local TD Willie Penrose made his debut as a County Councillor in 1984.
Yesterday, four of their six sitting County Councillors failed to be elected. If any local Council was to act as a barometer for the national Labour slide, it was this one.
Over successive elections, Penrose has played a key role in filling Council seats with Labour Party Councillors, largely at the expense of the once-dominant Fianna Fail. Since Penrose was elected to the Dáil in 1992, his enforcers have been his brother Johnnie and close pal Mick Dollard who, until yesterday, were regular local election poll toppers. Yesterday, both men scraped onto Westmeath County Council on late counts.
It was in 'Penrose country' that the historic 'Mullingar Accord' was struck between Labour and Fine Gael, ensuring the parties went into Government together in 2011.
However, with Fine Gael also taking a hit with three seats lost, it seems a new 'Mullingar Accord' may be on the cards as it is now a resurgent Fianna Fail coupled with a Sinn Féin party making their first appearance on the County Council since 1922 are the dominant political forces in Westmeath.
The new Council has 20 seats spread across three LEA's: Athlone, Mullingar-Coole and Mullingar-Kilbeggan.
In a carefully thought-out campaign, Fianna Fail fielded ten candidates. Yesterday, nine were elected - three in each area - with country and western star TR Dallas, aka Moate-based Cllr Tom Allen, hanging up his Stetson as the only FF'er not to be elected.
Sinn Féin, meanwhile ran three and returned three - one in each area. The story of their campaign was Sorca Clarke, a pregnant mother-of-three whose forth child was due this weekend. Her labour pains will be a little different than the Labour pains experienced by Penrose this morning.
Clarke, a self-employed accountant, said she entered politics because Westmeath County Council has been "pale, male and stale" for two long. Housing and retraining were her campaign clarion calls, but in recent weeks she had to greatly limit her canvassing due to complications in her pregnancy. Without a major canvass she secured almost 10% of the first preference vote in Penrose's doorstep of Mullingar-Kilbeggan.
Former journalist, first-time SF candidate and mother-of-three Una D'Arcy came close to topping the poll in Mullingar-Coole. Elsewhere, SF's unsuccessful by-election candidate Paul Hogan made up for that disappointment by being elected onto the Council in the Athlone LEA. FF's Aengus O'Rourke also got a By-Election consolation prize of a seat in the same LEA.
Also in Athlone, Independent former FF Cllr Kevin 'Boxer' Moran topped the poll. By far the most popular politician in Athlone, he also scored more votes in the Longford-Westmeath By-Election than hometown girl Gabrielle McFadden, who was elected on a tide of sympathy, ironically from Mullingar-Kilbeggan voters on Penrose's doorstep.
Labour were not even running a candidate in Longford-Westmeath until Denis Leonard was thrown into the ring late in the campaign. His local campaign floundered and he in one of many familiar Labour faces gone from the Council.
National anti-windfarm campaigner Andrew Duncan saved Fine Gael's blushes on a local level, grabbing a late seat in Mullingar-Kilbeggan. The party lost three seats in total, with many at the Mullingar Park Hotel count centre saying they ran too many candidates.
Accordingly, the 20 seat Westmeath County Council looks set to comprise:
Fianna Fail - 9 seats
Fine Gael - 5
Sinn Fein - 3
Labour - 2
Independent - 1
Paul Daly (FF)
Avril Whitney (FF)
Ken Glynn (FF)
Sorca Clarke (SF)
Johnnie Penrose (Lab)
Andrew Duncan (FG)
Aidan Davitt (FF)
Una D'Arcy (SF)
John Shaw (FF)
Paddy Hill (FF)
Frank McDermott (FG)
Mick Dollard (Lab)
Peter Burke (FG)
Kevin 'Boxer' Moran (Ind)
Paul Hogan (SF)
Tom Farrell (FG)
Frankie Keena (FF)
John Dolan (FF)
Aengus O'Rourke (FF)
Vinny McCormack (FF)