From Socialist Voice, December 2010

Bye-bye, Mary?

Sinn Féin’s long-awaited breakthrough in the recent Donegal South-West by-election may prove in time to be an indication of how far the country’s ruling parties have fallen from grace. While the seismic crumbling of the Fianna Fáil vote was breathtaking, it is nevertheless the other candidates’ polling in this by-election that catches the eye.
     Firstly, Pearse Doherty of Sinn Féin was always in the driving seat, and rightly so, for a number of reasons:
• He always polled a respectable vote since standing for election in this large constituency.
• He had the courage to go to the courts to force the Government to hold the by-election.
• He is young and articulate and so has an appeal for young voters as the youth finally shun familial fealties towards Civil War party politics.
• Fianna Fáil was due a kicking!
• And Sinn Féin has an electoral party machine that compares very favourably in energy, endeavour and organisation with that of Fianna Fail.
     As for Fianna Fáil, its candidate, Brian Ó Domhnaill, must wonder if he has committed political suicide, as it appears that his ego outweighed his pragmatism when taking the leap into a contest in which he was always going to face an uphill struggle to poll well, let alone win.
     This can be better explained when we see that, before taking that leap, he probably analysed the previous election results and realised that Sinn Féin would more or less have to persuade half the Fianna Fáil vote in this constituency to change. And that’s exactly what happened.
     A closer examination of all the recent polls demonstrates that such a seismic voting shift was on the cards, especially when Sinn Féin played the trump card, that the people of this constituency had been denied their rightful democratic and constitutional representation in Dáil Éireann for the last seventeen months.
     Ó Domhnaill’s campaign was shot when he was clearly being ill-advised or even lied to about what was going on in Dublin with the IMF and the EU. His remarks about how dangerous and impractical the IMF bail-out would be, and that it wasn’t happening, when the whole country and their mothers knew what was on the cards, had a shattering effect on his campaign. This was further compounded when the Taoiseach himself advised constituents on Árainn Mhór that there would be no IMF-EU bail-out the day before it was officially announced, by the same person.
     Fine Gael, while coming second, are clearly rocked by this result. Together with their main rivals, their vote decreased, and the writing is already on the wall for their candidate, Barry O’Neill, as the party have already declared that the incumbent, Dinny McGinley, will have to be persuaded to run again—this despite the fact that he had to be cajoled and coaxed to run in the last election, as he sought to retire from politics.
     Their disappointment reflected their arrogance and that of Fianna Fáil, in that both thought they could derail the Sinn Féin bandwagon and take this seat. However, given the backdrop to this election, a 4½ per cent decrease is a shocking performance for a party that was supposed to be in the ascendancy, and it has been heard at a recent wedding in the constituency that a sitting Fine Gael TD was extremely embarrassed at their electoral showing—especially in Dunfanaghy, where, despite its predominantly Protestant population, Sinn Féin polled exceptionally well.
     Thomas McBrearty, for the Labour Party, provided the by-election’s humour; but it raises serious questions about this party that they put this candidate forward at all, despite increasing the Labour vote by 9½ per cent. It must be asked, What would be possible had the Labour Party put forward a credible candidate that was lucid in policy and able to communicate effectively? Also, he was little known outside his heartland of Raphoe, and his rantings and ravings were not going to cut the mustard. In fact there are whisperings that dyed-in-the-wool Labour voters moved away from the Labour Party in this by-election, for reasons to do with both their embarrassment about this candidate and the Labour Party’s economic position.
     But the real surprise of the by-election has to be the independent, Thomas Pringle, who hails from Killybegs and is a long-standing community activist and councillor of repute. Pringle’s poll shocked the electorate, as he consistently had to fight a rearguard campaign with no party machine other than about thirty volunteers and with the media providing him only token air time. Building on his reputation as a councillor, Pringle managed a very credible and encouraging performance and will surely stand in the coming general election. He won’t win but will certainly have a say in who does.
     As for the last candidate, Ann Sweeney . . . enough said.
     Regarding the forthcoming general election, Pat the Cope Gallagher has already said he will not be standing, and his media musings regarding this by-election definitely suggest that all is not well within the local Fianna Fáil cumainn. This leaves the Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan, as the front runner for Fianna Fáil; but considering her local electoral base, the Frosses, she may take a heavy hit, as Sinn Féin did remarkably well here in the by-election. It appears that her credibility is shot when the local electorate remember her embarrassing and arrogant performances in the Dáil and elsewhere.
     This could prove a difficult one to predict, but Mary Coughlan is certainly in for a rough time when she starts canvassing. So there is every likelihood that Brian Ó Domhnaill will seek to resurrect his political career and stand as the second Fianna Fáil candidate, which might prove worth while, as he has every chance of overtaking his party colleague, given that to some extent his reputation—unlike that of Mary Coughlan—is not stained or tarnished with the economic mess now being experienced in the country.
     Dinny McGinley will stand for Fine Gael and take a seat for his party; but Pearse Doherty is likely to top the poll for Sinn Féin on both first preferences and transfers.
     Hopefully, the recent by-election signals a bye-bye to Mary!

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