Wednesday 16 August 2017

Donegal

Sinn Fein (2), 1 Fianna Fail (1), Fine Gael (1), Independent (1).

The economy remains the battleground here. Donegal people don’t believe they saw the benefit of the boom seen elsewhere and the crash made things worse. Poor infrastructure is blamed for holding the county back.

There is some anger that everywhere south of Ballintra has been moved into the Sligo-Leitrim constituency as the new Donegal seat combines the old South West and North East constituencies into one five-seater with the loss of a seat.

That makes this one very hard to call when it comes to the final seats. However high profile Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty and his party colleague Padraig Mac Lochlainn are expected to hold their seats, Doherty taking votes across the county and Mac Lochlainn strong in Inishowen.

The party has added a third candidate in Cllr Gary Doherty who has considerable support in the Finn Valley area. Private polling appears to show them in with a good chance of landing a third seat for the party.

The big shock in 2011 was Mary Coughlan losing her seat in the old three-seater South West constituency after her vote was split with Senator Brian O Domhnaill. Despite a 22pc share of first preference votes, the split killed the party and allowed Independent Thomas Pringle to take the final seat.

This time around Pat The Cope Gallagher is in the frame. He is hugely popular and, again, is expected to be elected early on. He has consistently pulled in votes from across the county (as an MEP) and his hard work at constituency level in the west of the county is expected to pay off.

Some party canvassing has him out-polling sitting TD Charlie McConalogue 2-1 and the Inishowen man may well lose his seat as a result. The party has also been bitterly divided over the lack of a candidate from the county’s biggest town Letterkenny.

Fine Gael meanwhile has been struggling in the private party opinion polls but it would still be a an upset if sitting TD and junior gaeltacht minister Joe McHugh didn’t hold onto his seat.

The party’s other sitting TD Dinny McGinley has retired and there has been an ongoing internal spat over who should run alongside McHugh who needs a running mate in the south of the county to help him over the line. They have added Paddy Harte, whose family are steeped in politics, to the ticket.

The battle for the fifth and final seat will be the real story here. Solicitor Dessie Shiels is hardly known outside Letterkenny. Niamh Kennedy, from Killybegs, will do well and is attracting support from across the county but not well enough to take a seat and Tim Jackson from Ballybofey doesn’t have enough momentum despite a campaign based on halving TDs’ salaries.

Sitting TD Thomas Pringle is also from Killybegs and faces being squeezed out by Kennedy and will find it difficult to get past the post this time around in a field full of independents which is also expected to include Frank McBrearty Jnr.

All the candidates are vowing to do their best for Donegal – with job promises all round in a county where unemployment is almost 14pc and large numbers of young people have emigrated and not returned. It’s highly likely that Sinn Fein will take the final seat.

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