In the lee of the Penrose resignation storm, his nine elected colleagues in Westmeath have chosen to stay within the party fold after an emergency meeting in Mullingar on Wednesday night (November 16 ).
After the resignation of Deputy Willie Penrose from his seat in Cabinet, but not from the Labour Party, over the closure of Columb Barracks, there had been calls from councillors close to the Ballinacarrigy barrister to quit the party in protest.
They were of the opinion Deputy Penrose was left in an untenable position by the party leader, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore. The latter had given a commitment to keep the barracks open two years ago which Deputy Penrose stood by, but who was then left with no other honourable option but to resign after the closure was forced through earlier this week.
However, calmer voices prevailed at the meeting on Wednesday, which was attended by eight of the nine councillors. Cllr Denis Leonard from Kinnegad had an unavoidable prior commitment.
“It was an open and frank discussion, and while we fully stand behind Willie - who had no choice in the long run - we’ve paid such a price losing such a strong voice at Cabinet. We decided as a group last night [Wednesday] to ask Eamon Gilmore come and meet with us and explain the situation,” said county councillor, Ger Corcoran.
“There were promises made, and we should be given the relevant facts and figures on it... we don’t want State secrets, but I’d still like to see the sums on it. Willie didn’t believe the figures added up,” he said.
“Willie hasn’t resigned from the party, and none of the councillors have,” he stressed.
“There were people who wished to, but we’ll hang on for now before meeting the leader,” he said.
As the five county councillors and three town councillors chose to postpone any mass defection decision until after Gilmore speaks to them, it is now considered unlikely that the Labour Party will implode within the county on this issue.
“We’re all in agreement now. It makes no logical sense to resign from the party. I don’t see how it could benefit the cause. Our strength is within the support of the party,” said Cllr Corcoran, who lamented the necessity of the ex-Minister’s resignation.
“He was a great man to have, and a huge loss to us. We have lost a major voice from the parliamentary party, that’s the downside, but there’d be no value to colleagues to leave when Willie hand’t left. I don’t think we should shoot ourselves in the foot,” he concluded.
Those attending the Wednesday meeting were county councillors Dan McCarthy, Detty Cornally, Mick Dollard, Johnny Penrose, Ger Corcoran; and town councillors Pat Collins, Gerry Sheridan, and Jim Henson.