Willie started his career in politics when, at just 13, he became the branch secretary in his home town of Ballynacargy.

He was first elected to the Dail in November 1992, he was re-elected in the 1997,2002 and 2007 General Elections. In 1984, Willie was elected to Westmeath County Council until the ending of the dual mandate in 2003

Since being elected for Labour in the so-called "Spring tide" of 1992, Penrose has continued to be a poll-topper for Labour. Prior to Willie's election, the party had not had a seat in Westmeath since 1927.

He has been desribed as "a star electoral performer", that defied national trends in 1997 when he topped the poll with 8,037 votes - just 160 short of the quota. His popularity throughout his constituency has been strong since then. In the 1999 local elections, he won more than 42 per cent of the votes in Mullingar West and in 2002 he topped the poll. In the 2007 election, Willie once again topped the poll by securing over 12% of all 1st preferences.

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