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Friday 19 September 2014

Donegal stays true to form with a rebellious No vote

Anita Guidera

Published 12/11/2012 | 05:00

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THE tourism marketing slogan 'Up Here, It's Different' was dreamt up to celebrate the wildness and unique nature of Co Donegal.

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But it could just as easily apply to the voting pattern of an electorate which, almost without exception, bucks the national trend.

Once again, Donegal has proved how different it really was when it became the only county to reject the referendum.

Almost 60pc of voters in Donegal North-East and 56pc in Donegal South-West returned a resounding No.

The voices of the north west had spoken, or at least some of them had. A showing of less than 25pc of voters was probably the most dismal turnout in living memory.

Donegal has form. Last June, the county rejected the Fiscal Treaty and said No to both Lisbon treaties.

So what prompts such consistent contrariness?

While it's impossible to know the reasons behind the predominantly No vote, geography is a factor.

There is a perception among its 161,000 residents that Donegal is 'the forgotten county'. For many years it has suffered from its peripherality, being virtually cut off from the remainder of the Republic except for a few kilometres of shared boundary with Co Leitrim.

The county, with its over-reliance on the construction industry, has been hit hard by emigration following the economic collapse. Unemployment is high and household incomes have dropped severely. Large swathes of the population are refusing to pay the Household Charge.

Notwithstanding political loyalty -- a long-held and fiercely loyal allegiance to Fianna Fail was severed in the last general election when Sinn Fein became the dominant party -- Donegal's isolation makes people naturally suspect of directives from Dublin and Brussels.

A quick analysis of tally figures in Donegal South-West shows the gap between the No vote and the Yes vote widening in more rural areas.

In the end, it appears a predominantly conservative electorate was influenced more by calls for a No vote from conservative Catholic organisations, individuals and a handful of local clergy, than by the support for the measure by political parties, the Catholic hierarchy and children's rights campaigners.

Influence

With many voters seeing the referendum as a battleground between parents' rights and the right of the State to intervene in cases of child welfare, voters in the north west clearly feared over-zealous state intervention.

The last-minute Supreme Court ruling that found the information campaign run by the Government had been one-sided also appears to have had some influence on the outcome.

It seems postal and island votes, which were cast before the Supreme Court ruling, showed a significant number in favour of the referendum.

Speaking afterwards, Fine Gael TD for Donegal NE, Joe McHugh, agreed that many had genuine concerns which he said had to be reflected in legislation.

"It is important that the voice of people with concerns is taken into account. Many people voted against this referendum because they have concerns over state intervention," he said.

At the John Bosco Count Centre in Donegal Town, where chairs were being stacked three hours after the count began, the mood among the party faithful was one of resignation.

"At least we're consistent," remarked one wry observer.

Irish Independent

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