Election 2020: Longford-Westmeath constituency profile
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will do battle for Penrose’s seat
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran is expected to comfortably retain his seat. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Longford-Westmeath (four seats)
Current: 1 FG, 1 FF, 1 Ind, 1 Lab
The four-seat Longford-Westmeath constituency is one of a handful of races where a likely head-to-head battle between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to win a second seat will prove to be the story of the count.
Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy, Minister of State Kevin “Boxer” Moran (Ind), and Fine Gael’s Peter Burke are all standing for re-election, with Labour Party stalwart Willie Penrose standing down after nearly three decades as a TD.
Bord na Móna is a significant employer in the Longford end of the midlands constituency and unease around plans from the semi-State company to transition away from peat over the next decade, and the resulting job losses, will be an issue on the doorsteps.
Other issues likely to feature include the lack of broadband in rural areas, pressure on health services and a lack of home help support to care for an ageing population, as well as a sense of communities feeling economically left behind. The farmer’ protests over the price of beef is also expected to feature in the campaign.
Troy topped the poll with more than 11,000 first preferences in 2016, and is expected to comfortably retain his seat, as are Burke and Moran.
Fine Gael is running three candidates with Burke, Cllr Micheál Carrigy, and Senator Gabrielle McFadden on the ticket.
Fianna Fáil has opted for a two-candidate strategy, with party figures hoping Troy can bring his running mate, Cllr Joe Flaherty, over the line.
A realistic gain
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are targeting a second seat in Longford-Westmeath as a realistic gain, making the constituency one of several where the national outcome of the election may be won or lost.
There is an opening for a candidate from the Longford end of the constituency to take a seat, with the four TDs elected in 2016 hailing from Westmeath. The two candidates likely to contest for that seat are Cllr Carrigy (FG) and Cllr Flaherty (FF), with the result likely to be very close and to hinge on where the transfers go in the final counts.
Both men were elected on the first count in last year’s local elections in the Longford and Granard wards respectively, with just 130 first-preference votes between them.
The Labour Party has selected former Westmeath GAA footballer Alan Mangan to stand.
Cllr Louise Heavin is running for the Green Party. The architect narrowly won the fifth and final seat in the Athlone ward in the local elections after polling just shy of 600 first-preference votes.
Sinn Féin’s candidate Sorca Clarke had a disappointing result in the local elections, polling 511 votes in the Mullingar ward and losing a council seat she had won in 2014.
Clarke is a qualified accountant and runs a small Midlands security business. Hailing from the Westmeath side of the constituency may hurt her chances of capitalising on the party’s rise in popularity during the campaign. However, if there was a candidate to upend both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s hopes to take a second seat it could well be Clarke given the party’s performance in national polls.
Prediction: FF 2, IND 1, FG 1
Candidates: Peter Burke (FG), Micheál Carrigy (FG), Sorca Clarke (SF), Joe Flaherty (FF), Louise Heavin (GP), Donal Jackson (Ind), Anna Kavanagh (Ind), Frank Kilbride (Ind), Alan Mangan (Labour), Gabrielle McFadden (FG), Kevin “Boxer” Moran (Ind), Dom Parker (S-PBP), James Reynolds (National Party), Barbara Smyth (S-PBP), Robert Troy (FF).