Westmeath profile: ‘Penrose factor’ could halt possible Labour slide in council vote

Speculation mounts on how Sinn Fein and Independents will perform

Full list of candidatesOpens in new window ]

The ability of Labour in Westmeath to stem the predicted electoral tide against the party nationally is a key question that has emerged in the county council elections.

Labour secured six of the 23 council seats in 2009, a strong performance by any standards, and the conventional wisdom would put some of them under threat, with the party performing poorly in the polls. However, account has to be taken of the role of the six councillors in the tight-knit and hugely effective organisation surrounding local Labour TD Willie Penrose.

Willie Penrose: has built up a remarkably strong base in what would not be regarded as traditionally strong territory for the party since his election to the Dáil in 1992. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Mr Penrose, from Ballynacargy, has built up a remarkably strong base in what would not be regarded as traditionally strong territory for the party since his election to the Dail in 1992. His resignation in 2011 from his “super junior’’ post as minister of state for the environment over the closure of Mullingar Army barracks did not go unnoticed locally.

Kept his word There was huge local opposition to its closure, given that Eamon Gilmore, as Labour leader, and Mr Penrose, had made a public commitment in Mullingar that it would remain open during the last general election campaign. Mr Penrose’s decision to keep his word, and sacrifice his coveted junior ministry, could see the party remaining strong and defying national trends, as he has done in some Dáil elections in the past.

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Predictions about the council elections are hazardous, given the reduction in the number of seats from 23 to 20. Local personalities and issues are likely to dominate strongly because of the reduction in the number of electoral areas from five to three. They are Athlone and Mullingar-Coole, with seven seats each, and Mullingar-Kilbeggan, with six seats.

Fine Gael and Labour will be anxious to retain their supremacy and the prestigious chairmanship of the council that goes with it. Fianna Fáil will be fighting from a position of strength, given that the party has a sitting TD in the county, Robert Troy. A councillor in the old Mullingar East electoral area, Mr Troy did well to secure the seat in the last election against the national trend.

There will be considerable interest in the performance of Sinn Féin candidates, given that Westmeath has not been a strong base for the party in the past. A strong bet appears to be Paul Hogan, who is contesting the Athlone electoral area and the byelection.

Given the national opinion polls, the Independents, too, could expect a breakthrough. The performance of outgoing councillor Kevin “Boxer” Moran, formerly of Fianna Fáil, who is contesting both council and byelection polls, bears watching.

Full list of candidates

Electoral Area Name Party
Athlone Allen, Tom (FF)
Athlone Coghill, PJ (Ind)
Athlone Devery, John (Ind)
Athlone Dolan, John (FG)
Athlone Farrell, Tom (FG)
Athlone Henson, Jim (Lab)
Athlone Hogan, Paul (SF)
Athlone
Jackson, Donal (Ind)
Athlone Keena, Frankie (FF)
Athlone McComack, Vinny (FF)
Athlone McNamara, John (Ind)
Athlone Moran, Kevin "Boxer" (Ind)
Athlone O'Brien, Michael (Ind)
Athlone
O'Rourke, Aengus (FF)
Athlone Shaw, Alan (FG)
Mullingar Coole Burke, Peter (FG)
Mullingar Coole D'Arcy, Una (SF)
Mullingar Coole Davitt, Aidan (FF)
Mullingar Coole Dollard, Mick (Lab)
Mullingar Coole Fagan, Brian (Ind)
Mullingar Coole Grimes, Rachel (Lab)
Mullingar Coole Hill, Paddy (FF)
Mullingar Coole Holmes, Pat (Ind)
Mullingar Coole Horan, Rosemary (Ind)
Mullingar Coole Kearney, Peter (Lab)
Mullingar Coole Leonard, Denis (Lab)
Mullingar Coole Maher, Angela (Ind)
Mullingar Coole McDermott, Frank (FG)
Mullingar Coole Shaw, John (FF)
Mullingar Coole Wallace, Emily (FG)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Arthur, Colm (FG)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Burley, Chris (Ind)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Clarke, Sorca (SF)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Corcoran, Ger (Lab)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Cornally, Detty (Lab)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Daly, Paul (FF)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Duncan, Andrew (FG)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Fagan, Brian (Ind)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Glynn, Ken (FF)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Maher, Angela (Ind)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Murtagh, Chris (FG)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Newman, Michael (FG)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Penrose, Johnnie (Lab)
Mullingar Kilbeggan Sheridan, Gerry

(Lab)

Mullingar Kilbeggan                               Whitney, Avril                                         (FF)

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

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