Fianna Fail on Renewal Journey in Westmeath

Cllr. Frankie Keena, Cllr. Aengus O'Rourke, Michael O'Brien (Athlone FF), Deputy Micheal Martin (FF Leader) and Deputy Robert Troy
Cllr. Frankie Keena, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Michael O’Brien (Athlone FF), Deputy Micheal Martin (FF Leader) and Deputy Robert Troy

The Fianna Fail party leader did an impromptu door calling in the midlands on Valentines night which gave him a chance to see how the party land lay.

“We are on a renewal journey and it’s going to take us time to regain the trust of the people, and I’m knocking on doors tonight, and I’ve been in Kinnegad, Rochfortbridge, Kilbeggan and now I’m in Athlone, and I’m going to a function tonight in honour of Cllr. Kieran Molloy,” said Micheal Martin, to irishsmokefill.  “We are connecting and listening to people, about the experiences they are having in this recession, and the difficulties they are having to make ends meet.”

The Fianna Fail president said that property tax looms large on people’s mind and they are very worried and very anxious about it.

“How can somebody on welfare pay a property tax, and many people paid stamp duty, and that was their property tax,” said Deputy Martin.

He said Fianna Fail put an alternative before Christmas, that anyone with income over €100,000 could have an increase on their USC charge and that would bring in some revenue.  He said they also proposed changes in taxation relief on some pensions.

“We didn’t fudge it, and what people are saying to us, is they can manage an increase of a fiver or a tenner, but to get a hit of €300, that’s a step too far for people,” said the FF leader.

He said he was happy with the work of his two local councillors, Aengus O’Rourke and Frankie Keena, and the party’s own TD in Longford/Westmeath, Robert Troy, who is based in Mullingar.

Athlone doesn’t have a Fianna Fail TD since Mary O’Rourke lost her seat in 2011.  It seems like the fight has begun to change that fact, with Cllrs O’Rourke and Keena being the contenders.   However whoever the candidate is, will have their work cut out for them, with the rise of a Sinn Fein candidate, Cllr. Paul Hogan in the town, and the strong presence of Fine Gael, and their TD, Nicky McFadden.  Deputy McFadden is going through an illness, but is aided in her constituency work by her sister, Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden and by Cllr. Mark Cooney (son of former Minister, Paddy Cooney).  Also Robert Troy has managed to have kept up a presence in Athlone over the past two years, despite his Mullingar base. Former Fianna Fail member, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, who got 3,700 first preference votes as a Independent in the last General Election hasn’t gone away either.

Deputy Martin appeared in the midlands a few days after the party got the 26% rating in a poll, and on the eve of them getting 27% in another.

“I take opinion polls with a grain of salt, and they are going to be up and down, but the trend is in the right direction,” he said to irishsmokefill.  “There is a new spirit in the party, and we have to understand where people are at in their life, and it’s a worrying time for a lot of people, with unemployment, emigration and mortgage arrears.”

‘Voice of the People’ Heard in Athlone

JOHN MCNAMARA, member of new political party, 'Voice of the Party'.
JOHN MCNAMARA, member of new political party, ‘Voice of the People’.

Ireland’s newest political party had its beginnings this week, at a gathering at the Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone.  The party, ‘Voice of the People’ has begun from the grassroots of the Athlone Anti-Household Charge committee.  The committee which was formed around a year ago has now made the move into politics, and plans to contest elections in Westmeath, Longford and South Roscommon.

The PRO of the new party is John McNamara, who was the Chairman of Longford/Westmeath Sinn Fein before being expelled from the party early in January.  It is not clear why he was expelled, but he has had very high profile appearances in the media over the past eighteen months.  He is also an engineer and a former army officer.

Among the other active members of the new party are Gordon Hudson, founder of the Athlone Anti-Household charge committee, and his wife, Geraldine Hudson.  The current Chairman of the new party is Peadar Doyle, and Treasurer is Ann Heneghan, both of whom are veteran members of the original committee.  A new member, Ernie Draper was chosen on the night as the party’s secretary.

“We need to get up and visit council chambers and listen to people’s ideas, and what I would suggest is if this will be a party, is that we all have to be full members and listen to each other,” said Mr. McNamara.

The small group of less than twenty members chose and voted for the name ‘Voice of the People’ (which was suggested by Gordon Hudson) against some other names.

Mayor of Athlone, Jim Henson was a surprise attendee at the gathering, but he said that he was there merely to wish the new group good wishes, and that he intended to remain in the Labour party.

“I’m here because I respect people at the top table, and Gordon, and politics is born from anger and community development, and I want to wish ye the very best of luck,” said Mayor Henson.  “It’s no harm, and the more parties that are borne the better, and it’s better for democracy, and it’s easy to say things are wrong.  Everybody can see what’s wrong, and everybody’s looking for answers.  I never missed a public meeting belonging to any party, because the day you stop learning, is the day you stay in bed, so anything for local democracy I will support.”