Thursday 18 January 2018

'I'm devastated for Nicky - I wish she was here' Gabrielle McFadden

Longford Westmeath

Fianna Gael's, Gabrielle McFadden smiles as she is applauded by her daughter Katie and son Luke as she was announced as the winner of the Longford, Westmeath by-election in Keenagh, Co Longford. Picture: Damien Eagers
Fianna Gael's, Gabrielle McFadden smiles as she is applauded by her daughter Katie and son Luke as she was announced as the winner of the Longford, Westmeath by-election in Keenagh, Co Longford. Picture: Damien Eagers
The late FG TD Nicky McFadden.
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

WHEN the result came, there was none of the usual cheering and roaring.

Instead, there was respectful applause, and tears for some.

It was an emotional night in Keenagh, Co Longford for Fine Gael's Gabrielle McFadden whose TD sister Nicky died from Motor Neurone Disease last March, leaving the Longford Westmeath seat vacant.

"I wish tonight I was standing in the count centre in Athlone, topping the poll for Westmeath County Council with Nicky by my side, but I'm not," the 47-year-old mother of two said.

"I'm very emotional. I'm devastated and lonely for Nicky but I'm very happy with the result. I promise to work to the best of my ability, with a heart and a half."

The tallies had indicated from early in the day that she would win out, but it took seven counts. Returning officer Imelda Brannigan gave the final results shortly after 1am.

Ms McFadden's final vote was 20,058. Her nearest rival, Fianna Fáil's Aengus O'Rourke, secured 14,581.

Acknowledging that voters had rejected government parties across the local and European elections because of unrelenting austerity, she said the right decisions had been made but that people needed more money in their pockets.

"Things are improving. It's very slow and I understand that. We have to be responsible. Enda Kenny has indicated that if we stay as stable as we are now in October, we can give something back. It's very important people get something back."

Ms McFadden polled 25pc of first-preferences, with a total of 12,365 votes.

She was followed by Mr O'Rourke at 18pc (8,910), Paul Hogan (SF) at 15pc (7,548) and Independent candidates James Morgan (12pc, 5,959) and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran (11pc, 5,629).

Labour's poor showing nationally was reflected in the constituency, with Denis Leonard – who only joined the race 12 days prior to polling – securing just under 7pc, or 3,290. He also lost his council seat.

It was the effects of six years of austerity, coupled with the "fiasco" of the medical cards scandal, the "ham-fisted" introduction of water charges and the housing crisis that had led to the party's demise, sitting Labour TD Willie Penrose said.

"We never thought we'd win the seat, but I'm somewhat disappointed with the showing," he said.

"Nationally it's a bad day. The pips are squeaking, there's no more left to give. You can't take blood out of a turnip. The people have given enough. If there's no blip in the growth rate, it's time to start handing back."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrived shortly after 9pm to congratulate Ms McFadden, saying the electorate had given the Government a "very clear" message.

"I believe we need to redouble our efforts. There's a lot of frustration. It has been a difficult three years for everybody," he said.

He would be "reflecting on the results" before considering a cabinet reshuffle, adding there was an "opportunity to galvanise".

While the election was expected to be a straight fight between Ms McFadden and Aengus O'Rourke, son of former minister Mary, other candidates also gave strong performances.

Independent James Morgan, the only Longford-based candidate and a first-time runner, polled well in Longford, and it was expected that many of his transfers would go to Ms McFadden.

Sinn Fein had a good showing, with Paul Hogan – who ran in 2011 – making significant gains on his previous outing.

The quota was 24,502 and turnout was 55pc.

Despite the rural nature of the constituency, there was a clear bias towards candidates from Athlone – six of the nine were based in the town.

Irish Independent Supplement

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