Belfast Telegraph

Willie Penrose victory retains Dail speaking rights for Labour Party

The Labour Party has secured seven seats in the Dail, ensuring its leader and TDs retain valuable speaking rights.

After a marathon count which finished six days after polling day, Willie Penrose took one of the final seats in the election in the redrawn Longford-Westmeath constituency and guaranteed the party a precious public profile in Leinster House.

"It was a touch of Lazarus," he said after being elected.

"I got three runs of Lazarus this time.

"It just shows you the vagaries of the proportional representation system.

"I'm delighted to have secured it. It's the sixth time I've been elected. It's a great honour and privilege to represent the people.

"It's very important in the context of the Labour Party itself. I'm the seventh member and that's very important in terms of us, we are the oldest political party in the state, born in 1912. We have a very proud tradition."

Mr Penrose told RTE Radio: "To those who wanted to write us off prematurely or to those who predicted our demise, let this be a warning and a signal that we do not intend to die easily, we intend to reorganise and rebirth."

The Labour TD has been in the Dail since the so-called "Spring Tide" of 1992.

He was appointed to a junior ministry dealing with housing in 2011 but stood down after six months over the closure of an army barracks in Mullingar. Two years later he rejoined the party ranks.

Mr Penrose defeated James Bannon of Fine Gael for one of the final seats in one of the closest fought contests in the 2016 election.

The knock-out blow was delivered at about 5.30am on Thursday at the count centre in St Dominic's community centre in Keenagh, Co Longford, dubbed the Siege of Keenagh by some of those who stuck with it to the bitter end.

Mr Penrose's victory ensures Labour's leader has valuable time to question the Taoiseach and Tanaiste in the Dail, a precious bonus to help the party maintain a profile after its setback in the election.

Labour has gone from 37 seats to seven.

Mr Penrose, who took a phone call from party leader Joan Burton at 6.15am, said he was not interested in contesting a leadership race.

Fine Gael's Peter Burke took the other of the last two seats.

Mr Bannon, who was the outgoing TD based in Longford, is considering a legal challenge to the count after he was eliminated on the 14th count, six votes behind Mr Penrose.

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