Another High Profile FF Independent on the Way?

Happier FF Times - Deputy Robert Troy, Senator Averil Power and Cllr. Aengus O'Rourke
Happier FF Times – Deputy Robert Troy, Senator Averil Power and Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke

More woes for Fianna Fail appear on the horizon with the declaration from by-election candidate, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke that he will consider all his options, following news that the party won’t be running a candidate in his South Westmeath neck of the woods.

While he has told Shannonside FM radio that he is not intending to leave Fianna Fail, his “consider all options,” comment can’t be forgotten easily by the party.

Many personnel difficulties have been happening in Fianna Fail since just before the Local Elections last year. But the most high profile has been by-election candidates, David McGuinness (Dublin West) who resigned from the party and will run as an Independent, and Ivan Connaughton (Roscommon-South Leitrim) who has refused to run again while Micheal Martin is leader! Then Senator Averil Power unexpectedly resigns over issues, including the party leader’s management of the party’s work on the Marriage Equality Referendum.

Longford/Westmeath has one Fianna Fail TD, Robert Troy from Ballynacargy in North Westmeath. In previous decades, the area was overseen by Fianna Fail big names, Albert Reynolds and Mary O’Rourke.

Reynolds’s successor, Peter Kelly and O’Rourke lost their seats in the Fianna Fail earthquake of 2011. However Robert Troy was successfully elected as a first time TD.

In the intervening years, Athlone Fine Gael TD, Nicky McFadden tragically died of motor neuron disease. A by-election was held on the same day as the Local Elections in 2014, and Aengus O’Rourke, Sinn Fein’s Cllr. Paul Hogan and Independent, and ex FF politician, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran were beaten by Nicky’s sister, Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden.

Over the past six months it was rumoured that Fianna Fail was only going to run one candidate in Westmeath, and one in Longford in the next General Election.

Knowing that Deputy Troy would have to be the Westmeath candidate, lobbying from South Westmeath FF went on to headquarters to have a second candidate for the county. However their efforts have proven fruitless and the news came through last weekend that Westmeath will have just one candidate.

O’Rourke and another local councillor, Frankie Keena have both expressed interest in challenging at convention. Keena is the current Mayor of Athlone, and has been a long time councillor. He was co-opted to Athlone UDC following the death of the popular Senator Sean Fallon in 1995. O’Rourke was elected to Athlone Town Council for the first time in 2009, and is the son of former Minister Mary O’Rourke.

O’Rourke has finally broken his silence on the issue of Fianna Fail not giving South Westmeath a candidate.

“Effectively what this decision says is, we have one seat already and we just want to hold on to that seat at the next GE, let’s circle the wagons and aim low,” he said.  “My approach in life, business and politics is to be optimistic, be progressive, work hard, take risks and aim high.

“I am very disappointed for the party in Westmeath. I think a one candidate strategy for Westmeath lacks ambition, it’s a negative decision.

“The Fianna Fail party locally quite rightly had their eye on a second seat for Fianna Fail in this constituency – that prospect is now gone. Instead, we have literally conceded a seat to Sinn Fein and we might even have gifted Fine Gael a second seat!

“On a personal level, I am very disappointed for the Fianna Fail organisation in South Westmeath and Athlone who have been of great support to me. I have yet to fully consider all my options, I will be discussing my options with Fianna Fail locally, my family and supporters over the coming weeks,” said Cllr. O’Rourke

Mayor Keena told the ‘Westmeath Independent’ newspaper that he imagined candidates from other parties and Independents in the area must be clapping their hands at the news that Fianna Fail wouldn’t be running a candidate in this area.

There are reasons for both arguments. It is true that Co. Longford, the Mullingar area and the Athlone area are three separate areas and each area has a population of 30,000 give or take, and votes rarely cross between those areas, although Willie Penrose of Labour managed to do well from all three areas last time.

Fianna Fail also have a point with the two candidate strategy because of the huge competition they will face from the other parties and Independents. The party scored just 19% at this weekend’s Red C poll, despite the recent by-election success in Carlow-Kilkenny, and it is not likely to rise much further before the General Election.

O’Rourke will probably stay on board in Fianna Fail, and the longer away the General Election is, the bigger the chance he has of being added. More and more Independents and small party candidates will continue to announce they will run. Robert Troy will be comfortably elected much more so than last time, but he will still need transfers, many of which are less likely to come from South Westmeath with no Fianna Fail candidate on board. It is also believed that South Westmeath Fianna Fail members intend to support their Longford candidate rather than Troy. Troy is safe, but in any election, anything can happen. In North Westmeath, Penrose will be strong, and so will the Fine Gael candidate there, not to mention many other high profile candidates, like FG TDs, James Bannon and Gabrielle McFadden.  Also popular candidates, Cllr. Paul Hogan of Sinn Fein and Athlone Independent, Cllr.Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran will poll highly.

However everything would need to sort out soon in Fianna Fail, because the party doesn’t need another of their high-profile members heading into the Independent arena.

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