There hasn’t been a by-election in the Longford/Westmeath constituency since April 14, 1970.
It arose 44 years ago following the death of Fianna Fáil TD Patrick Lenihan and the seat was won by Fine Gael candidate Patrick Cooney (16,146 first preferences), seeing off Sean Keegan (FF) 15,228 and Jack Coleman (Lab) 3,180.
There was also a by-election on June 30, 1930 following the death of FF TD James Killane and his party colleague James Geoghegan 21,881 claimed the seat defeating Vincent Delany (Cumann na nGaedheal) 16,438 and Michael Duffy (Lab) 2,525.
Cllr Gabrielle McFadden is the firm favourite to capture the seat left vacant following the untimely death of her sister Nicky on March 25 last.
In the general election of 2011, the late Nicky McFadden secured 6,129 (10.7%) of first preferences as she joined Willie Penrose (Lab) 11,406 or 19.8%, James Bannon (FG) 9,129 or 15.9 and Robert Troy 4,275 or 7.4% in the Dáil. Nicky also contested the 2007 general election but was unsuccessful, picking up 5,359 (9.8%) first preferences.
Interestingly, Sinn Féin’s Paul Hogan was one of two candidates who secured more first preferences (4,339 or 7.5%) than Deputy Troy three years ago, and he is again in the by-election race. Two other Independent candidates that contested the 2011 general election are also in the field - Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran (3,707 or 6.4%) and Donal Jackson (101 or 0.2%).
With six of the nine candidates coming from the Athlone area, it would appear that Cllr McFadden’s greatest threat comes from FF’s Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, son of former Minister Mary O’Rourke.
Business man James Morgan is the only Longford-based candidate and with an impressive track record in job creation it will be very interesting to see if Longford voters buy into his mantra ‘A vote for Morgan is a vote for Longford’.
Longford-based FF followers were very annoyed that party HQ snubbed the county and opted for a strategy of a single Athlone-based candidate and this adds intrigue to a battle where jobs, water charges and geography have emerged as key issues.
In the race for the four European Parliament seats on offer in the expansive Midlands-North-West constituency spanning fifteen counties, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy is favourite to top the poll.
Outgoing Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness, who three years ago lost out to Gay Mitchell to become Fine Gael’s Presidential candidate, is also fancied to retain her seat in her new constituency.
Independents Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan TD and outgoing Ireland North-West MEP Marian Harkin look well positioned to capture the two remaining seats, however, they are facing fierce competition from the outgoing duo of Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher (FF) and Jim Higgins (FG), two vastly experienced political figures.
In 2009, in the North-West constituency, Harkin topped the poll securing 17.1% (84,813) of first preferences ahead of Gallagher (16.7%, 82,643) and Higgins (16.2%, 80,893). While five years ago McGuinness emphatically topped the East constituency poll, claiming an incredible 25.7% of first preferences (110,366, thereby exceeding the quota on Count 1).
The by-election and European Parliament betting according to Paddy Power bookmakers is;
To win a seat: McFadden 1/2, O’Rourke 11/8, ‘Boxer’ Moran 14/1, Hogan 33/1, Leonard 50/1.
To win a seat: Mairead McGuinness 1/20, Matt Carthy 1/14, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan 2/9, Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher 4/7, Marian Harkin 4/6, Thomas Byrne 6/5, Jim Higgins 7/1.
To top poll: McGuinness 10/11, Carthy 5/4, Flanagan 5/2, Harkin 6/1, Gallagher 16/1, Byrne 50/1, Higgins 50/1.