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Longford-Westmeath count enters dramatic fourth day

Tuesday, 1st March, 2016 9:31am

Story by Paul Hughes
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Longford-Westmeath count enters dramatic fourth day
Longford-Westmeath count enters dramatic fourth day

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The general election count in the Longford-Westmeath constituency has been plunged into a dramatic fourth day, after two candidates sought another full recount.

When Fianna Fáil's Connie Gerety-Quinn was eliminated after the 12th count in Kenagh, Co. Longford, the distribution of her transfers resulted in a potential 13th count elimination for one-time poll topper and long-serving Labour TD, Willie Penrose, who trailed Fine Gael incumbent James Bannon by 19 votes.

Initially, the Labour Party's legal advisors sought a full recount, which was turned down by returning officer Imelda Branigan, who said that a re-examination of ballots held yesterday (Monday) was sufficient.

But in a stunning turn of events, the surplus of Independent Alliance candidate Kevin 'Boxer' Moran – who was elected by Gerety-Quinn's transfers on the 13th count – led to a closing of the gap between Penrose and Bannon.

In fact, there were indications in the early hours of Tuesday morning that a difference of just two votes existed between the two deputies, with Penrose enjoying the slenderest of leads.

Bannon then asked for a full recount, which Ms Branigan announced would begin at 10.30am today (Tuesday).

The chain of events comes after a sensational transfer comeback by Penrose, who had effectively conceded defeat on Saturday evening when his poor first preference vote became known, saying that he was "looking forward to life as a private citizen".

The Labour Party is understood to be anxious to secure Longford-Westmeath, as it desperately seeks to cobble together the requisite number of seats to ensure speaking time in the Dáil.

Athlone's Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, meanwhile, follows Fianna Fáil incumbent Robert Troy as the second TD returned from the constituency. He takes the Athlone seat vacated by sitting FG TD Gabrielle McFadden, who was eliminated on Sunday.

Another Fine Gael candidate, Mullingar man Cllr Peter Burke, is expected to take the third seat unless some seismic shift ousts him, leaving three candidates vying for the fourth.

Athlone-based Sinn Féin county councillor Paul Hogan is still very much in the running and has his nose in front of Bannon and Penrose, though his hopes for election would rest on potential transfers from the elimination of the latter.

The exclusion of Bannon, however, would likely elect Burke and push Penrose ahead of Hogan into the fourth seat – though nothing can be ruled out in a count which has bewildered onlookers so far.

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