Despite some disquiet from Longford, the will of Fianna Fáil’s national executive was upheld in Mullingar on Tuesday night (April 29 ) as the party rubber-stamped the uncontested nomination of Aengus O’Rourke for the forthcoming by-election.
After a decision at party headquarters last week to limit the pool of candidates to just those from the Athlone electoral area, both the senior elected member in the area - Cllr Frankie Keena - and Local Election candidate Vinny McCormack reluctantly stood aside to allow the O’Rourke dynastic juggernaut a free road.
“It’s both humbling and hurting for me to be standing here tonight, but with a heavy heart I withdraw my candidacy,” said Cllr Keena at the convention in the Bloomfield House Hotel in Mullingar.
“We need a candidate that can bring immediate media attention, and I’m prepared to support Aengus here tonight. Athlone, Moate, and south Westmeath needs a TD to challenge central Government’s policies... Aengus, this is your opportunity, one I’d like to grab with both hands,” he added.
Vinny McCormack from Ballymore said he was “very tempted” to contest the seat, but quoted party unity and his desire to land his first seat on the county council as the main reasons behind his withdrawal.
“We may be underdogs, but I remember Robert Troy was a very big underdog three years ago, and I believe Aengus can do the same,” he said.
Then it was the candidate’s turn to speak to the faithful.
“I stand before you as a very proud Fianna Fáil member, and would firstly like to thank those who have helped me here. It is true to say you have been working ... like Trojans,” he said to the laughter of those who remembered his mother’s unfortunate “working like blacks” simile at her convention contest with Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran in the very same room seven years previously.
He was generous in his thanks to both his preceders, and declared: “We very much are a united group in south Westmeath, and your support will be crucial over the coming weeks”.
“Nobody could’ve predicted these circumstances, with Local, European, and by-election all at once. It’s an electoral whirlwind,” he said, before paying tribute to Nicky McFadden.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the McFadden family in this, the week of Nicky’s month’s mind,” he said, before treading on the more familiar ground of criticising the Government for “false promises and lies”, as well as for cuts to health, child benefit, and allowances to the elderly.
“Instead of rewarding old people for building this great country, they are penalising them for growing older,” he said.
Cllr O’Rourke was then followed by both European candidates - Senator Thomas Byrne, and Pat Gallagher MEP - and local TD Robert Troy, before convention chairman, Timmy Dooley of the national executive offered the floor to Pat O’Rourke from Longford to air his grievances.
After offering his “heartiest congratulations” to Cllr O’Rourke he got straight to his point and told the meeting “Longford felt it has been excluded here tonight”.
He then proposed a motion that the party headquarters would add a candidate from Longford “to assist” the push for a seat.
“I will take that back to the national executive but it would be wrong of me to lead you to believe that that would be the way they’ll go,” said Timmy Dooley.
“I will ask the constituency committee to review its decision, but I’m not aware that Fianna Fáil ever fielded two candidates in a bye-election for one seat,” he concluded.