Fianna Fáil councillor Aengus O’Rourke has said that his party’s decision to run just one candidate in Westmeath and one in Longford for the upcoming General Election is a strategy that lacks ambition.
For the first time ever, the Athlone area and south Westmeath will not be holding a convention to select a candidate to contest the next General Election. Fianna Fáil have decided that running one candidate in Westmeath and one in Longford will maximise the party’s vote and the potential for seats, a strategy O’Rourke says flies in the face of logic.
“There is no good reason to exclude Athlone and no matter what gloss or spin one puts on this strategy the truth of the matter is that the well-engineered, well-oiled, and professional Fianna Fáil electoral machine in south Westmeath has now ground to a halt. The same machine that for years had so much success for the party in delivering a TD and senior Minister time and time again ground to a halt, perhaps never to start again. Instead of having three machines in full flight in this constituency, we now only have two.”
O’Rourke says that the impact of this decision may not be immediately apparent to some, but that the effects will emerge after the election when it is then too late. “By not fielding a candidate in Athlone, Fianna Fáil will not challenge for a second seat come the election. We will have no organisation left in Athlone and, if that was not bad enough, we are by our actions electing a Sinn Féin TD from Athlone and maybe even an Independent TD too. Believe me, they simply cannot believe their good fortune.”
O’Rourke says a two-candidate strategy will not yield two seats as it will isolate an electorate of 30,000 voters: “It decommissions our Fianna Fáil organisation in Athlone and it lacks ambition. So instead of advancing forward, being ambitious and courageous, we are retreating, battening down the hatches, and taking a very negative view of our potential.”
The news has been greeted with disdain from many other Fianna Fáil members from south Westmeath, who decided to boycott the convention held last weekend. “I was inundated with calls in recent days from members explaining that they would be staying away,” O’Rourke says. “They asked me to make sure I expressed the extent of their anger.”
As a result of his party’s decision O’Rourke has withdrawn his name for the pot: “I am left with little choice but to withdraw my name in solidarity with my fellow Fianna Fáil members, my colleagues, my friends, and my supporters from south Westmeath, and I have done so with a very heavy heart,” he says. “I come from a very proud Fianna Fáil tradition, I am a very proud Fianna Fáil public representative.
“Elected for the first time to Westmeath County Council last year, topping the poll for Fianna Fáil in the highly competitive Athlone electoral area. Athlone is my home town and I love it dearly. It grieves me greatly that I will not be representing it in the forthcoming General Election.”
Despite his decision, O’Rourke has called on his party to remain united going forward: “Despite our deep disappointment there should be no divisions. We must proceed as one, united and resolute in our efforts in the months ahead for the sake of Fianna Fáil. I will certainly do whatever I can to maximise the party’s vote, and will continue to work hard on behalf of the people I represent as a county councillor.”