With less than 24 hours to go until the polling stations open in the General Election, we take one final look at each of the 18 candidates battling for the four Dáil seats on offer in the Longford-Westmeath constituency, in the order their names will appear on the ballot sheet.
James Bannon (Fine Gael)
Deputy James Bannon was elected to Dáil Éireann in 2007 and he is now seeking his third term as a TD for Longford-Westmeath. A former county councillor, he was first elected to the local authority in 1985. He is a former member of Seanad Éireann.
“Throughout my time as a member of Dáil Éireann I have always been a strong and consistent voice in speaking out for the people of Longford,” he states.
“Over the past five years my office has dealt with over 10,000 representations for the people of Longford, stretching from Moyne to Ballymahon and from Lanesboro to Abbeylara.
“I have a proven track record in delivering for Longford.
“In the last eighteen months alone I ensured that the cash flow difficulties encountered by St Christopher's were fully resolved by the HSE.
“As a Government TD, I have also played a central role in ensuring Longford receives it fair share of investment and job creation and this was realised in the announcement of Center Parcs coming to Longford.
“We have also seen a substantial increase in jobs in Kiernan Milling in Granard, C&D Foods in Edgeworthstown, and Green Isle foods in Longford along with 233 extra Enterprise Ireland jobs in the last year.
“We have seen a substantial investment in new schools for Edgeworthstown, Ballymahon and Stonepark and extensions for Lanesboro, Drumlish, Templemicheal, Granard and a new library for Edgeworthstown which will support our younger people for generations to come.”
Peter Burke (Fine Gael)
Peter Burke is a 33-year-old Chartered Accountant who has been selected to run for Fine Gael in this General Election in the constituency of Longford/Westmeath. He is the youngest candidate in this constituency.
Cllr Burke is from a farming background and continues to help out on the family farm. He is an elected County Councillor since 2009 and was chairman of Westmeath County Council in 2014. He also contested the 2011 General Election, polling over 6,600 first preference votes.
Cllr Burke is married to Olivia Doolan and they have one child, baby Leo, who was born just before Christmas.
Having served the business community as an accountant with Stephens Cooke & Associates in Longford, Cllr Burke knows the problems facing employers and workers alike. He says he “will serve the people of Longford/Westmeath as a full time TD if he is elected and has the ability and energy to make a real and lasting contribution to national politics”.
Cllr Burke has been working on many issues to date; he aims to deliver a state of the art in-patient hospice palliative unit in the constituency and is also an advocate for increased investment in our public services.
“At the General Election the people of Longford Westmeath will have a chance to look to the future of the constituency and vote for a candidate with real ability and energy to work for the entire constituency. Please Vote Number 1 Cllr Peter Burke,” he concluded.
Connie Gerety-Quinn (Fianna Fáil)
Connie Gerety-Quinn is someone who, from experience knows and understands the daily challenges faced by ordinary people of all ages. Connie’s background is in business and management and she is a qualified advocate and mediator with a proven track record. She has worked in both the private and public sectors and for the past 16 years has presided over the provision of an independent Information, advice and advocacy service in Longford. She has successfully represented citizens at hearings and tribunals and has been highly applauded for her determination and achievement.
Married to Joe with three young children, Connie knows first-hand the challenges facing families and communities. She also has an understanding of the effects that policy, devised at national level, across all government departments has on ordinary people.
Her priorities include: Attract business, investment and opportunity to secure additional jobs for Longford; Provide “Incubation Units” that are fully resourced office spaces with the necessary IT and administrative support to enable entrepreneurs start their own business and interface with one another, which in turn will create employment in the region; Bridge the digital divide by ensuring access to high-speed broadband and tackle rural isolation; Address anti-social behaviour with a zero tolerance policy and better estate management; Promote the culture of Agriculture in rural Ireland and secure better and fairer prices for products; Develop a fairer balanced interactive welfare system that accommodates modern work practices and options and promotes the benefits of employment. She says she will be a strong voice for Longford to ensure that Longford gets priority and parity in terms of investment, development and infrastructure, something that has been lacking under the current government and its representatives. Connie is focused, hardworking and enthusiastic and will be a strong voice for Longford.
Steffi Healy (Direct Democracy Ireland)
“My name is Stephanie Healy and I am your Direct Democrary Ireland candidate for the Longford-Westmeath constituency.
“I am originally from County Limerick but have been living and working in Athlone for three years.
“As a graduate who had no choice but to emigrate in the past to find work, I realised that something needed to be done with the growing issue of unemployment and emigration in ireland.
“Our current political system is broken and we the people of this country have an opportunity to change that in the upcoming election.
“Direct Democrary aims to give power back to the people through people-initiated referendums and a system of recall.
“By giving power to the people we will decide how our country is run given the fact that we the people are the most affected by the selfish decisions in which our current and previous governments have made.
“It's time for a radical change.
“I would encourage some much needed inward investment into the Midlands region to create employment and better opportunity for the people of this constituency.
“A vote for Direct Democrary is a vote for your chance to change everything.”
Paul Hogan (Sinn Féin)
Paul is the Sinn Féin candidate in Longford/Westmeath and is also a Right to Change candidate. He was first elected as a councillor in 2004 at the age of 21. He holds a Masters in Child and Youth Care and a 1.1 Honours Degree in Social Care. Paul contested the by-election in Longford/Westmeath, receiving a very impressive 11,254 votes. He is a member of a number of community, voluntary and sporting organisations including the GAA.
He believes in the abolition of stealth taxes such as the water charges, property tax, student fees and A&E fees, and the creation of a progressive and fairer tax system, where those who have most in society pay their fair share.
Paul asserts that Longford has been forgotten by successive Governments. The net figure for jobs in the county in 2014 was minus 56.
“This is a shocking indictment but not surprising when you consider the complete lack of IDA visits to County Longford,” he says.
“The unemployment rate in Longford is twice the national average and job activation schemes such as Gateway and Tus need to be ended as they amount to slave labour.”
He says that Sinn Fein's job proposals will create jobs in Longford by providing the necessary infrastructure such as broadband, roads, schools and health centres. Supports need to be also put in place to support our family farms and end the decimation of rural Ireland.
Paul advocates for the protection of public services and is fighting for the reinstatement of at least two Special Needs Assistant in St Christopher's.
“Housing is at crisis point and must be treated as an emergency. There are over 1,000 families on the social housing waiting lists and many families are homeless because of Government policy,” he states.
Donal Jackson (Independent)
An aeronautical engineer by profession, Independent candidate Donal Jackson also holds a master's degree in marketing and an MBA. He is married to Anne, a consultant psychiatrist, and the couple have four adult children.
“I am a business consultant,” he explained. “My work includes audit of business models for stress efficiency and effectivity.
“If elected, I intend to utilise my experience and education to solve the problems that our country is currently facing. A lot of the problem is mismanagement.”
As an example, Mr Jackson focused on the areas of health and employment.
“I want health for the many as opposed to wealth for the few,” he said. “My solution for our health service is to position our GPs at the heart of the operation; I would convince them to join our health service for the public good; remunerate them as consultants and base them in the primary care centres; properly resourced, with the authority of clinical director.”
On employment he outlined a need for sustainable rural job opportunities.
“Only the produce of the farm is exportable, not the jobs,” he continued. “The future of food is through precision medicine branding. This is about the genetic make-up of the individual, the life style/diet and the environment in which the individual lives. Doctors will have the genetic make up of patients on screen as they attend them.
“Provenance of the food source is crucial; with animals, the source and validity of their nourishment, is also vital. Marketed properly, our food will be seen as a very significant and specific part of the treatment for the ailments of people all over the world.
“The opportunity for sustained employment in this arena is enormous and in the right hands, my hands, it would be professionally driven.”
Manchán Magan (Green Party)
Manchán Magan, a travel writer and television maker from Collinstown, Co Westmeath has strong Longford connections through his first-cousins, the Magan’s of Killashee. Running for the Green-Party in Longford-Westmeath his campaign has focused on the region’s potential as a powerhouse of innovative start-ups right on Dublin's doorstep with a re-orientated focus towards innovation, sustainability and enlightened social services.
He’s been promoting:
· Sustainable fruit and vegetable horticulture on our underused land (tapping into the €850m we currently import);
· Developing locally-owned renewable energy (including wind farms on condition that households within 4.5km are compensated for any loss of property value and are allowed invest in at least 20% of the farm, as is the law in Denmark,)
· Attracting some of the €6 billion Irish tourism business to our “undiscovered wonderland of lakes, woodland estates, wild water realms and alluring peatland” through a network of locally-run immersive adventure activities, and offering direct engagement with the community and intelligent cultural insight.
· The fourth strand of his campaign has been about communities coming together to create a social care system that is enlightened, holistic and community-led, based in some rural areas around the model of a community-supported farm.
He claims that funding for these projects is available through EU Rural Development Funds and the EU's Life Programme combined with public/private investment through a new network of regional-based public banks modelled on the German Sparkassen (like credit unions, but for SMEs), whose remit will be to fund local public projects and return the profits to the local area.
They are all big concept ideas that would require much development, but their ultimate goal is to create a vibrant, sustainable Midlands that will keep our children healthy, happy, but most of all, here.
Gabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
“When I was elected just 20 months ago, I said I had three priorities; jobs, jobs and jobs. I got great support from the people of Longford in the by election, and I vowed that I would be a TD for all of Longford-Westmeath.
“Since then I have worked with Richard Bruton on the Midlands Jobs Strategy. I was involved in helping Center Parcs come to Ballymahon, long before anyone else even knew about it!
“And in the next five years, I want to see another four multi-national companies land in County Longford.
“Childcare is a big priority of mine. We need to show people that the way out of poverty is work, not welfare, but to do this we need to make childcare more affordable and more accessible.
“Being a woman in politics is not easy. I remember my first day on Westmeath County Council, each of the councillors were given a gift of a tie and a pair of cufflinks! I asked was there anything for the two female councillors. To which one of my male colleagues piped up: “What do you want, a pair of knickers?”
“It is a bit like an old boys club, and although I believe women should be there on merit, I think Fine Gael is serious about progressing politics.
I always get a great reception when I am in Longford. I was delighted to help St Christopher's last year when the service was facing closures and financial uncertainty.
“Longford was hard hit in the recession, and many shops in the town have closed. Although unemployment has reduced by 28% in Longford since the worst of the crisis, we still have long way to go. I am fully committed to doing my utmost to deliver results to the people of Longford.”
Noel McKervey (Catholic Democrat Party)
Born, raised and educated in Athlone, Catholic Democrat Party candidate Noel McKervey has strong Longford links in his late mother Margaret Warrington (Earl Street) and his wife Anne (née O’Shea, Newtowncashel).
A Retired Clerical Officer with CIÉ, Mr McKervey holds an interest in Athlone Town soccer club and a love for the River Shannon, which saw him own two small cabin cruisers at different times. However, he revealed that his main interest lies in the military reserve forces, which he served for many years.
Having always been interested in politics, Mr McKervey was an active member of Fianna Fáil for 10 years, but left after becoming disillusioned with the party.
Declaring his support for the pro-life campaign and Youth Defence, Mr McKervey said his decision to join the Catholic Democrat Party came after the introduction of limited abortion legislation. He added that a lack of political voices to oppose abortion and plans to repeal the 8th Amendment has propelled him to contest the election.
Mr McKervey also said that there is something ‘radically wrong’ when a mainly Catholic people elect a predominantly Catholic Government, who “set about attacking the Catholic faith beliefs” of their electorate.
“It is my strongly held opinion that Dáil Éireann needs to have a voice which needs to both reflect and protect the Catholic Christian ethos of the Irish nation and I call on the voters to ask themselves this question before voting - Am I respecting my Faith belief with my vote, or am I casting aside my Faith belief with my vote?” Mr McKervey concluded.
James Miller (Independent)
James Miller is an ex-member of the Defence Forces, who was based at Custume Barracks in Athlone. The 63 year-old currently lives outside Kilbeggan in County Westmeath, where he owns a small farm. He points to his considerable life experience among the qualities he feels qualifies him to serve the people of Longford-Westmeath in Dáil Éireann.
While much of his early life was spent soldiering and rearing a family, and also serving in several roles in the GAA, in recent times he has turned his attention to political issues.
“If politics is the art of the possible, then creating a network of publicly-owned banks must not alone be possible, but also utterly essential, if there is to be any positive structural changes within the Irish economy,” he says. “Banking in the public interest is the simple motto of the Public Banking Forum of Ireland.
“The Public Banking Alliance of GE16 candidates simply links together candidates who support the community/public banking project. Family and community are at the core of both true societal values, and economy.”
Mr Miller is the founder of both the PBFI and the PBA, and is also a co-founder of BRUI, a new organisation formed to tackle such problems as commercial rates and the unfair treatment of small business owners.
He says he has a wide range of interests, including the establishment of whole health schools. However, he sets the public banking project as the essential requirement for any real positive change.
“Community banks will be the new spine of the SME sector,” he states.
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran (Independent)
To many in Longford, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran is an Athlone man through and through and might as a result be expected to give preferential treatment to the people of Westmeath, should he be elected.
“This thinking indicates a lack of understanding of 'Boxer', where he has undertaken that, if elected, he will be happy and privileged to represent the interests of all in the constituency,” his spokesperson explains.
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran is a 48-year-old married man with two teenage boys who has been a poll-topping council member in Athlone for 17 years. He is well-known for his hands-on practical approach, particularly recently when he was involved in a community initiative to keep the flooding Shannon from entering peoples’ homes through the proper use of sand- bagging and pumps in Athlone.
He runs a taxi business and says he is conversant with the woes of the self-employed. He is particularly keen to ensure that if a business goes to the wall that there is some financial safety-net for the business person, similar to the pay-related amount available to employees who lose their jobs. “Small business people should not be treated as ‘financial outlaws’ if their business goes to the wall. The poverty experienced after the collapse of a business is very real,” Kevin explains.
“Effective broadband is a vital requirement in all communities” he adds..
He believes that rural crime has got to be stopped, and modern technology could allow for people in their homes to be supervised by offsite security who can order any burglars off the premises, reassures the victims of the burglary and contact the guards. It is important to restore confidence to country dwellers.
“Living safely in the country is an entitlement, not a luxury,” he says.
James Morgan (Independent Alliance)
James Morgan is an Independent candidate for Longford-Westmeath.
He is a family man with four children and a qualified chartered accountant, and works with businesses and companies every day.
He wants to bring these business skills to Dáil Éireann to ensure Longford get jobs and opportunities for the future.
He was a leading organiser of the 'March for St Christopher’s', where over 4,000 marched in Longford against threats to the future of services for people with special needs.
He was subsequently asked to be a member of the Board of Management of St Christopher’s.
James first ran for the Dáil in 2014 achieving nearly 6,000 first preference votes, and was the only person to stand up for Longford.
No other Longford person stood up for us then.
As the leading Independent candidate this time around he is confident that he can return a seat for Longford and end the cycle of weak representation.
He has created nearly 200 jobs already and with a mandate from Longford will continue to do even more.
In a stable government with the Independent Alliance he will push for the Rural Employment Safety Trigger which will provide support and assistance from government straight away.
He plans to jobs and investment into the county, making it a better place with more opportunities for everyone.
Dominic Parker (Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit)
“My name is Dom Parker and I am 47 years young. I was raised in Kilgarvin, Ballinahowen, just outside Athlone near the Offaly border. I worked for insurance companies. All was going well until the governments’ mismanagement of the economy crashed the country into crisis in 2008. With my job gone, I hoped for some change with the promises of the last election. As we all know now we were totally betrayed yet again by the current government who sought to serve the interests of the Troika, the bond-holder and the elite.
“As for many others the Water Charges were the last straw for me. Through social media I got involved in the movement against these unjust charges and began to attend protests. For the first time in years I had hope that a different way of doing things was possible.
“I met other local activists and we quickly founded a local 'Athlone Says No' group and received help and assistance from the Anti Austerity Alliance. We formed a branch of the AAA and set about organising the opposition to Austerity in Athlone.
“The movement has been about much more than water. It’s about the housing crisis, council waiting lists, the two tier health care system, the trolley crisis, savage cuts to lone parents’ allowance, careers allowances, old age pensions and schools.
“The flood management, or lack thereof, shows the devastating consequences for ordinary people of the systemic lack of investment made worse by billions being handed to the banks in recent years.
“A war is being waged by the rich elite upon the working class. We need political representation to fight for our interests and that is why I am standing as a candidate for the Anti Austerity Alliance in Longford Westmeath in the 2016 general election.
Willie Penrose (Labour)
Deputy Willie Penrose, Labour, was first elected to the Dáil in November 1992, and he has been re-elected in every general elections since.
According to Deputy Penrose, the roll-out of a high speed, fibre broadband across Ireland to support rural communities is absolutely critical, and would allow so many people who have innovative and entrepreneurial skills and abilities, to develop these and work from within their home environment – it would be akin to the promotion of telecottaging type industries, which would create sustainable and viable industries which can transact business on a worldwide basis.
Deputy Penrose believes there is a huge threat to rural villages, where the prospect for the corner shops, small garages, small retail businesses and other infrastructure are under severe threat. Whilst the Spillane Report offers some hope, there will have to be a multi annual investment programme put in place to arrest the decline which from a population perspective is impacting negatively on schools, sporting teams, church-going numbers, etc., and will ultimately impact on the viability of these cornerstone infrastructures of rural communities.
Deputy Penrose believes a more focused report along the lines of the Kerr Commission which reviewed the viability and sustainability of rural Post Offices, and which has made recommendations which within weeks of its publication are being examined and implemented on a “pilot basis” under Ministerial direction – the same process should be deployed in order to develop appropriate policy responses for rural areas. In this regard an SSIA type system to promote investment should be explored, whereby for every documented €4 invested in rural villages and towns, the promoter/inventor would receive €1 from the State.
Likewise, Deputy Penrose believes it may well be time to consider having a Minister appointed at senior level with specific responsibility for rural renewal, invigoration and sustainability.
Mae Sexton (Independent)
“As an experienced politician with a track record of delivery for County Longford I guarantee you the people of Longford that as your elected TD I will put all my energy into ensuring that you get a representative who is focussed on ensuring the regeneration of our County and the delivery of jobs in our area.
“When I last served as your TD, I successfully brought jobs to the county through the inward investment of Abbott and the Prison Service to name but two. I will replicate this success for our county again.
“I will hit the ground running as your experienced representative and will be unwavering in my committment to delivery for Longford. I have no conflicting interests apart from working as your full-time politician. I'm a straight talker, and am true to my word.
“As a county we need urgent investment in infrastructure, social housing, carers and disability, youth funding and focus from the state organisations reponsible for delivering jobs to the area. We need to get all organisations working together towards the best interests of this county.
“Longford has suffered greatly despite having had a Government TD for the past five years.
“It is time for a change for the better but only you the people of Longford can deliver that change.
“I am no longer prepared to stand by and watch as our county is overlooked time and time again. It is up to the people of Longford, no matter what party they represent, to vote for a local person interested only in the betterment of our county.
“I urge you, the people of Longford to strengthen our voice.”
Barbara Smyth (Independent)
Barbara Smyth is an Independent candidate.
“I am the only candidate in Longford and Westmeath who is truly Independent while committed to both Right2Change and The One Year Initiative,” she states. “These two inspirational concepts are about people-focused politics and that's hugely lacking in what the bigger parties are offering.”
A resident of Newtownforbes, Barbara is married to David and they have three daughters aged 18, 14 and 10. She is a voluntary community worker as well as a director of the business herself and David have owned since 1996. Through her voluntary work, Barbara is involved with many organisations throughout the constituency and is the current chairperson and one of the founding member of the Longford First Responders as well as chairperson of Little Einstein's Childcare facility.
Barbara Smyth is pledging to use the TD salary to fund local projects, groups, initiatives and clubs by way of a foundation she will establish to distribute over €80,000 each year to fund local recovery herself as she believes a TD salary is “outrageously high”.
“I want to give back to the community in every way that I can,” she explained. Barbara is also an anti-water charges campaigner and has been a part of the Right2Water movement since its inception.
She says she will be a vocal TD speaking up for everybody in the constituency and will bring the people's voice to the Dail: “We need a person who doesn't fear the establishment and is willing to speak up and speak out on behalf of us all.
“I will work to create the conditions for inward investment and job creation in our area and I will fight for the right to a living wage and a home."
Robert Troy (Fianna Fáil)
Robert Troy is running for Fianna Fáil in Longford-Westmeath. A native of Ballynacargy, he was elected to Dáil Éireann in 2011.
Deputy Troy says that Longford has been overlooked by the current government.
“It is by now well known that Longford has been neglected by Fine Gael and Labour. Last year was the first time since 2010 that the IDA set foot in Longford,” he says.
“Though struggling at the moment with high rates of vacancy and a lack of commercial activity, Longford will restore itself with the right help. It will grow if it is allowed to. Its small business owners are persistent and relentless. If a government decides to unburden the small and medium-sized business in rural towns of the excessive rates that have been placed on them and treat the self-employed in an equitable manner that befits the work that they do and the substantial contributions they make, commerce will grow and the local economy will improve.”
He believes that investment in broadband is essential for generating employment. Fianna Fáil is committed to €325 million of an investment in broadband which will serve all areas in rural Ireland that cannot obtain fibre power broadband from providers.
“The government closed 139 Garda stations across the country, leaving rural communities unprotected and afraid,” he claims.
“They committed these measures in order to save a meagre €556,000 a year. We are committed to increasing the Garda force to 15,000 and introducing tougher sentencing for convicted burglars, introducing electronic tagging so that they cannot re-offend.
“Longford requires the political will and determination of an active and progressive government. Fianna Fáil can provide this with our policies on supporting SME’s and rural Ireland,” he says.