Friday 19 January 2018

Election finally over as Willie Penrose claims final seat after marathon Longford/Weatmeath count

Willie Penrose took one of the final seats in the election in the redrawn Longford-Westmeath constituency
Willie Penrose took one of the final seats in the election in the redrawn Longford-Westmeath constituency

Tom Tuite

GENERAL Election 2016 is over and the final Dail seats have been filled.

At 5.30am this morning following a marathon six day count in the Longford-Westmeath constituency, Fine Gael’s James Bannon lost his seat by six votes to Labour’s Willie Penrose.

The Labour man was not only fighting to save his political career but also his party’s Dail speaking rights as seven seats are needed to secure the privilege.

Fine Gael’s Peter Burke joins Independent candidate Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and poll topper Robert Troy of Fianna Fáil in filling the four seats in the constituency.

The result means Fine Gael are on 50 seats, down 26 from the 2011 election, while Labour are on just seven seats – a drop of 30 from the previous election result.

Fianna Fail has 44 seats and Sinn Fein won 23.

In what has been dubbed the Siege of Keenagh, Bannon and Penrose were locked in a tug-of-war war for votes, and political survival and several days of recounts and scrutiny took place.

Mr Penrose believed he had lost his seat over the weekend and this morning admitted, “there was a touch of the Lazarus about it”.

“My winning a seat shows you the vagaries of the proportional representation system – if ever anyone wants to see it in action, then  is it. I’m delighted to have won. This is my sixth time to be elected to the Dail,” he said.

“It is also very important in terms of the Labour Party – I am the seventh member and that is essential for the party in the next Dail.

He said that Labour would be in opposition in the next Dail.

“We will not be participating in any Government configurations whatsoever. Our job is to rebuild the Labour Party now.”

Mr Penrose also ruled himself out of any leadership battle within the Labour Party.

“No, I think I was beaten by 27 votes when I went for the Deputy Leader’s job. My job is to help with reorganisation of the party and I hope to play a very active role in that,” he said.

Following his elimination, Bannon, whose legal team was Longford solicitor, election agent Kevin O’Higgins and Cian Kelly BL for Fine Gael, said he was considering his legal position.

Should he contest the outcome of the count – he lost by six votes – Fine Gael has 14 days to bring an election petition to the High Court which would set out to challenge decisions of the returning officer.

A decision on whether a legal case will be taken will be made in the near future by Fine Gael.

Meanwhile, Labour TDs who lost their seats insist they intend to continue in politics.

A number of ex-deputies said they felt “honour-bound” to remain in politics in order to rebuild the party after the worst election in its 104-year history.

Primary Care Minister Kathleen Lynch TD has emphatically ruled out retiring.

“Labour has to be rebuilt because it was a very bad weekend for us,” she said.

“But we had a fantastic team, we got tremendous loyalty from some voters and there is no way I can ignore that.

“How can I walk away from such loyalty? There is a lot of work to be done for the Labour Party and I will play my part.”

Oireachtas Banking Inquiry chairman Ciarán Lynch, who lost his seat in Cork South-Central said he wanted to take “a little time to let the dust settle and draw my breath”.

“It is the first time since 1999 I will have a bit of time to myself,” he said.

And former Dublin North-West TD John Lyons said he was leaving the door open.

“Let’s say it’s still early days and I’m very open to politics and just going to let the dust settle from the General Election,” Mr Lyons said.

“If you were to say there’s an election in the morning, of course I’d be back up putting up posters. I’m too young give up on it now.”

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