Battle of Athlone Looms

The stage is set for the biggest battle of Athlone since Sgt. Custume defended the bridge in 1691. Three local people will be fighting to be the TD for the town after the General Election, which is on February 26th.

Deputy Gabrielle McFadden, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Cllr. Paul Hogan will be vying for the last seat in the Longford/Westmeath constituency, according to many political commentators including irishsmokefill, writes David Flynn.

It is considered that the three sitting deputies, Robert Troy, James Bannon and Willie Penrose will be returned, although it is the opinion of irishsmokefill that Penrose won’t have an easy re-entry to the Dail. The Labour TD was a poll-topper in 2011, with 11,406 votes but when the Longford/Westmeath by-election came in 2014, his Labour counterpart; Denis Leonard only achieved 3,290 votes.

However irishsmokefill believes Deputy Willie Penrose will buck the Labour nationwide trend and be elected, but obviously his vote will drop by more than a couple of thousand. The Penrose success or loss will be a barometer for the Labour vote nationwide. Basically if he loses, they are all gone!! And that’s not going to happen.

McFadden, Moran and Hogan are all natives of Athlone, and they need to have strong base votes, before they achieve the prize of returning as Dail Deputies.

Moran (Boxer) was elected as a Fianna Fail councillor in 1999, in fact to both Westmeath and Athlone councils on his first outing. His vote was small at the time, but it grew, to him coming only second to the popular Fine Gael politician Nicky McFadden at the two council elections of 2004. By the time of the 2009 elections, Nicky had become a member of Seanad Eireann, and Boxer was the poll-topper. Along the way, in 2006, he challenged the formidable Mary O’Rourke for the nomination for Election 07, and was beaten by a mere 10 votes.

When the Fianna Fail disaster election of 2011 came along, O’Rourke went forward again, and Boxer left the party to go as an Independent, gaining a credible 3,707 first preferences.  He remained Independent and when the councils changed in 2014, Boxer gained a massive 2,897 votes in the Athlone Municpal district election, almost doubling the vote of the second councillor elected.

Also in the meantime, Nicky McFadden suffered a terrible illness and sadly died in March 2014, and a by-election was held on May 23rd.

Her sister Gabrielle McFadden, who had been an Athlone town and Westmeath county councillor since 2009, was elected to the Dail. Gabrielle had got 12,365 first preferences, and won the contest easily. However a credible performance was achieved by Sinn Fein’s Cllr. Paul Hogan with 7,548 votes, which was a third of the by-election quota.

Hogan was first elected to Athlone town council in June 2004, and was re-elected in 2009. He represented Sinn Fein in the 2007 election. He was unsuccessful then and in the 2011 General Election but because his vote has almost doubled on each occasion, he can’t be ignored. has been consistently putting McFadden in the lead, and Boxer second and Hogan third – all for the last seat. But that is too simplistic.

McFadden will have to suffer due to the continuous dropping of Fine Gael percentage, and the same with Hogan. However she has the history of her family vote – her sister Nicky was the highest vote catcher in the history of Athlone Town Council/UDC.   Hogan’s vote has always been more Independent of Sinn Fein in his own native town, which any candidate would like to their name.

The Independent percentage is increasing – but will that elect Boxer?   Boxer’s local vote is immense, but can it continue once the votes outside of South Westmeath are counted? Being part of the Shane Ross/Michael Fitzmaurice Independent Alliance won’t hurt his vote. He has popularity, and if popularity transfers (pardon the pun) into votes, he will take the seat.

Lots of questions, the one guaranteed answer is………Athlone will have a TD come February 26th/27th…….not every town among the forty constituencies can boast such certainty.

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