Monday 19 February 2018

Penrose is no turkey as he focuses on 'kitchen table' debates with constituents

Tánaiste Joan Burton and Willie Penrose pour themselves a cup of tea in the Labour Party Tent at the National Ploughing Championships. Photo: Frank McGrath
Tánaiste Joan Burton and Willie Penrose pour themselves a cup of tea in the Labour Party Tent at the National Ploughing Championships. Photo: Frank McGrath Newsdesk Newsdesk

Three days after Christmas Willie Penrose hit the campaign trail in Longford-Westmeath, knocking on doors as people digested the last of the turkey sandwiches.

Just a few weeks earlier the Labour Party man was still undecided whether he would even seek re-election, but after coming under huge pressure from his colleagues he decided to give it another go.

Mr Penrose is seen as one of Labour's best hopes of retaining a seat no matter how low the party goes in the polls - but he says it is far from certain.

His strategy has always been the personal touch and this time is no different.

"I'm not interested in the radio or the town hall debates. What I'm interested in is kitchen table debates with constituents," he told the Irish Independent.

"The constituency hasn't made the same gains as other parts of the country over the past five years. People see there is a recovery but it hasn't hit rural Ireland yet," he said, adding that broadband was a major issue.

The former junior minister is well-known for championing one-off causes and secured a big victory in the latter days of the outgoing Dáil when he succeeded in making the bankruptcy laws less restrictive.

"My own view is if people want me and think I've been a good representative over 23 years, they'll elect me. If not, the essence of democracy is they'll find someone else," he said.

The potential for 'someone else' has been reduced by Fianna Fáil's spectacular row in Longford where headquarters imposed a female candidate on the ticket without a convention vote.

Their sitting TD Robert Troy is likely to hold his seat, but his running mate Connie Gerety-Quinn has limited support from her colleagues and stands little chance.

Fine Gael also have high hopes of getting their sitting TDs re-elected, meaning this could be one constituency that remains unchanged.

They won a by-election in Longford-Westmeath in 2014 following the sad death of Nicky McFadden. She was succeeded by her sister Gabrielle, who is likely to find the General Election a more daunting task.

On the ticket next to her will be James Bannon who is a native of Legan in Longford. It's a good constituency split for the two candidates but their success will be based heavily on transfers.

An outside bet might be Kevin 'Boxer' Moran in Athlone, who was once a Fianna Fáil stalwart but is now running as part of the Independent Alliance. He won great praise for his efforts in helping families during the floods.

The Alliance is also running James Morgan on the Longford side. Between himself and Mr Moran there is the potential for one seat if Fine Gael don't meet their own expectations.


Candidates:4 seats

FG Gabrielle McFadden TD, FG James Bannon TD, FG Peter Burke, LAB Willie Penrose TD, FF Robert Troy TD, FF Connie Gerety-Quinn, SF Paul Hogan, AAA Dominic Parker, R Rachel Grimes, IA Kevin "Boxer" Moran, IA James Morgan, GP Manchán Magan, IND Frank Kilbride, IND Barbara Smyth, IND Donal Jackson.

Prediction: Fine Gael (2), Fianna Fáil (1), Labour (1)

Irish Independent

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