McFadden favourite to win Longford-Westmeath byelection

Fianna Fáil’s O’Rourke continues political dynasty

Michael O’Regan reports from the Longford/Westmeath byelection count centre in Keenagh Co. Longford where the Fine Gael candidate Gabrielle McFadden looks set to take the seat. Video: Bryan O’Brien

Mayor of Athlone and Westmeath county councillor Gabrielle McFadden is the favourite to win the Longford-Westmeath byelection.

Sister of Nicky McFadden, whose death in March from motor neuron disease caused the vacancy, she is a formidable local politician in her own right. But, inevitably, there will also be a sympathy factor, given that Nicky McFadden was a popular and hardworking TD before her untimely death.

“It is Gabrielle McFadden’s to lose,’’ said one local source.

Eight other candidates are also in the race: Aengus O'Rourke, Fianna Fáil; Dennis Leonard, Labour; Paul Hogan, Sinn Féin; and Independents Kevin "Boxer'' Moran, Donal Jackson, John McNamara, Brian Fagan and James Morgan.


Highest ever vote Realistically, it is a battle between Ms McFadden and Mr O'Rourke, who is also based in Athlone and was first elected to the town council in 2009 with the highest ever vote for a first-time candidate.

He comes from a remarkable political dynasty. He is son of former minister and TD Mary O'Rourke, grandson of the late Paddy Lenihan, who represented the constituency in the 1960s, nephew of former minister the late Brian Lenihan snr and first cousin of former ministers the late Brian Lenihan jnr and Conor Lenihan.

Sympathy factor Local sources point out, however, that the sympathy factor for Ms McFadden and Mr O'Rourke's dynastic links could secure only so much credit from voters in a byelection held in the climate of an ongoing economic crisis.

The current sitting TDs for the four-seater are Labour's Willie Penrose, Fine Gael's James Bannon and Fianna Fáil's Robert Troy. In the 2011 general election, Fine Gael secured just over 38 per cent of the first preference vote; Labour 26.71 per cent and Fianna Fáil 19.46 per cent.

Comparisons with the general election figures carry a health warning, however. The political landscape, locally and nationally, has changed considerably since then and byelections are, in any case, sometimes very different contests because voters are not electing a government.

The situation in Longford-Westmeath is further complicated by the inevitable rivalries between the two counties.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times