Saturday 25 November 2017

Two Lenihan generations recalled as FF's O'Rourke looks for votes

TD Helen McEntee (FG), right, on the canvass
TD Helen McEntee (FG), right, on the canvass
John Downing

John Downing

"COME in here and I'll give you a job. A better job than the one you're after," the voice calls from the paint counter at the back of Diffley's hardware shop in Ballymahon.

Nearer the main door of this most traditional hardware emporium, Aengus O'Rourke gets a very warm reception.

Harry Quigley comes from behind the main shop counter to reminisce with the Fianna Fail by-election candidate about his grandfather, PJ Lenihan TD.

The shop man also recalls a chance meeting with O'Rourke's late uncle, the government minister, Brian Lenihan Senior, when they were both on holiday in Italy many years ago.

The passers-by and people in the shops are polite and friendly and in Cooney's Hotel he is given a friendly welcome.

For Aengus O'Rourke this is an election for the 'Athlone TD' – but it will be decided largely by the voters in north Westmeath and Longford.

That is why he is canvassing this Longford town with local FF councillor, Seamus Butler.

"There is great disenchantment with the Government over broken promises and a real need for job creation," the FF candidate says. He insists that he has encountered very little animosity towards his party's past record.

The 'Longford Leader' newspaper has also dubbed this the 'Athlone by-election' with four of the big-name candidates based in this historic town straddling Connacht and Leinster.

Along with O'Rourke, Gabrielle McFadden of Fine Gael, Sinn Fein's Paul Hogan and Independent Kevin 'Boxer' Moran are also running.

Gabrielle McFadden, trying to win back the seat held by her late sister Nicky, is the bookies' odds-on favourite and noticeably the only one of the frontrunners not also contesting the council elections.

"There are nine candidates and I won't stop campaigning until the close of polling. I promised Nicky I would seek the nomination when she first took ill and I'm getting a great reception but taking nothing for granted," she says.

Sinn Fein's Paul Hogan has been contesting various elections around Athlone since 2004 and now hopes for a real breakthrough as the party is putting in a strong campaign.

He is trying to capture the votes beyond Athlone and says jobs creation is the main issue.

Labour's Denis Leonard comes from the eastern fringe of the constituency near Kinnegad. The teacher and councillor is not lacking in courage as this is a tough election for the party.

"Labour played its part in fixing the broken economy and we are working to bring the economic recovery to the area.

"We have to get beyond the politics of the junior coalition party taking blame for all the bad things," he insists.

Kevin 'Boxer' Moran is pointing to his 15 years' work on the Athlone and Westmeath councils. The former FF man says Independent TDs have been among the best Dail performers and his slogan 'Time to Change' is about bringing more independent voices into politics.

The only Longford candidate, businessman James Morgan, is basing his campaign on job creation.

There are three other independent contenders.

Ex-Army man John McNamara is an Athlone-based Independent campaigning for military families.

Another Athlone-based Independent, Donal Jackson, is campaigning for self-reliance and economic independence.

Mullingar-based Brian Fagan runs a charity shop.

Irish Independent

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