AFTER almost 20 years in the wilderness, the Labour Party wants a seat in Laois-Offaly. Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore was emphatic on that point when he opened the office of local candidate John Whelan in Portlaoise last Monday afternoon.
Cutting the tape on the Lyster Square premises, Mr Gilmore said he wanted an election as soon as possible.
"The government should stick to the Green Party's original schedule. Call the election before the end of January. We have an excellent candidate in John Whelan, and I believe we can win. We are not targeting any particular seat in Laois-Offaly.
Responding to questions about disarray in the local organisation over the selection of Mr Whelan, Mr Gilmore acknowledged there was disappointment.
"It's been almost 20 years since the Labour Party had a seat in Laois-Offaly. The leadership had to intervene. We have a good strong candidate, and I am asking all members to of the party to support John Whelan.
"This is bigger than any one individual. There has been no investment in Laois-Offaly. The area is full of ghost estates and monuments to all that went wrong. There are people living here who have very real problems.
"I regret that communication may not have been good, but I have the height of respect for our members in this constituency. The Labour Party has the highest democratic standards and the selection was done according to party procedures. It was perfectly democratic.
"We have to remember what is at stake. "People are suffering and we have to fix the problems. It is critical that the Labour Party wins seats and that people get behind the party.
Candidate John Whelan pointed out that there was a lot Labour people present. "The cross community supporting I am receving is very heartening. What is being said about the selection in some quarters is not representative of the support I have been receiving, and of what is happening on the ground.
"There was no bloodbath. You are talking about one or two people. That is the absolute reality."
When pressed on disaffected Offaly Councillor Sean O'Brien, Mr Whelan said: "Sean O'Brien is just one person. He is not representative of the broader Labour support. "You cannot simply have candidates everywhere."