WHEN THE VOTERS in the Longford-Westmeath constituency go to the polls this Friday, they will not only decide who represents them on the council and in Europe.
They will also be picking their fourth Dáil representative in a by-election that was called just weeks ago, following the death of Fine Gael TD Nicky McFadden in March 2014. The short time-frame means that the election campaign has been dominated by the national news cycle with issues like jobs, water charges and the economy topping the agenda.
But what are the local issues for these voters and which potential TD is aiming to solve them?
Fine Gael: Gabrielle McFadden (Nicky McFadden’s sister)
Fianna Fáil: Aengus O’Rourke
Sinn Féin: Paul Hogan
Labour Party: Denis Leonard
- John McNamara
- Donal Jackson
- Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran
- Brian Fagan
- James Morgan
Electorate size: 85,918.
Turnout in the 2011 general election: 67.7 per cent.
- Labour Party’s Willie Penrose
- Fine Gael’s James Bannon
- Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy
Obviously, the common issues that matter to voters all across the country, like unemployment, emigration, water charges and the general state of the economy, are on the minds of the constituents of Longford and Westmeath.
The 4th Western Brigade
However local media said one of the biggest topics of contention for the people of Westmeath is the decision to close the Custume Barracks. In June 2012, it was announced that the 4th Western Brigade, which was headquartered in Athlone would be abolished, though the 1,000 jobs would be retained elsewhere.
At the time, the Westmeath Independent reported outrage from local politicians who said the move would still mean job losses in the area and would hurt the local economy. Micheál Martin even pledged to restore the 4th Western Brigade once his party gets back into power recently.
Columb Barracks in Mullingar were also closed during the term of this government and these decisions were discussed at length in a candidate debate on local radio station Shannonside.
John McNamara, who is running as an independent candidate, told TheJournal.ie that as a retired army officer, this has been a big part of his campaign.
“I’ve been talking to the guys and there’s a lot of emotion there,” he said. “So I have to be vocal for them because they don’t have a voice.”
Businesses, garda stations and windfarms
A reduction in the number of IDA site visits in Westmeath has also been raised by opposition candidates, according to the Deputy Editor of the Independent, Karen Downey.
Fianna Fáil’s Aengus O’Rourke told TheJournal.ie that as a business owner himself in Athlone, he knows first-hand the pressures that small firms in the area are dealing with on a daily basis.
“I have seen the power of businesses working together, pulling together and promoting together – rather than SME’s trying to individually find their own way a new emphasis and support structure around promoting cooperation,” he said.
Rodney Farry, who is a journalist at the Westmeath Examiner, said that the north of the county has seen a lot of talk about wind farms.
“Lots of candidates are getting asked about that, especially in certain areas that are earmarked for development,” he said.
Local media also said people in Westmeath are concerned about diminished garda numbers in the area – though this is a something that is being seen all across the country, particularly in rural areas.
There’s only one Longford candidate – that’s the problem
In Longford, the main issue for voters is the geography of the election itself, according to News Editor at the Longford Leader, Alan Walsh.
With six of the candidates based in Athlone, one in Mullingar and just one in Longford, voters in that county are feeling underrepresented.
“People were annoyed, with Fianna Fáil in particular, that there were candidates here prepared to put their names forward but the parties decided to go with a one candidate strategy,” Walsh said. People in the county have now started referring to the election as the ‘Athlone By-Election’.
For the 85,000 plus voters in this constituency, there are now five days to decide who they think will sort out these local issues for them and who will best represent them on the national issues in the Dáil.