Thursday 29 September 2016

Mac Lochlainn's shock defeat as Pringle takes fifth Donegal seat

Greg Harkin

Published 01/03/2016 | 02:30

Thomas Pringle (Independent) celebrates after being elected in Donegal on the 13th count. Photo: Clive Wasson
Thomas Pringle (Independent) celebrates after being elected in Donegal on the 13th count. Photo: Clive Wasson

Sinn Féin's Pádraig Mac Lochlainn last night lost his seat after a shock battle with Independent Thomas Pringle in the new five-seat Donegal constituency.

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The lead between Mac Lochlainn and Pringle swung backwards and forwards throughout the count, with the latter ahead by almost 1,500 votes at once stage.

But the elimination of Sinn Féin's Gary Doherty and the election of Pearse Doherty saw Mac Lochlainn surge into a commanding lead.

However, the elimination of Independents Dessie Shiels and Tim Jackson, and transfers from elected Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher (SF) and Joe McHugh (FG), saw Pringle home in the 13th count by just 184 votes.

Mr Mac Lochlainn conceded defeat, putting an end to plans to ask for a recount.

There had been a tense atmosphere at Aura Leisure Centre, as Mr Pringle was being supported by members of the dissident group The 32-County Sovereignty Movement.

Among them was Gary Donnelly, an Independent councillor in Derry, who is a bitter opponent of Sinn Féin.

Mr Pringle paid tribute to the work of Mr Mac Lochlainn, but said it was important there was an independent voice for Donegal.

Asked about support from members of the dissident 32-County Sovereignty Committee - including Cllr Donnelly - Mr Pringle insisted he was part of an 'independent movement'.

"The people who were here were independent councillors," he said.

"They are independent councillors and they are working as independent councillors.

"I don't know if he (Gary Donnelly) is a member (of The 32-County Sovereignty Committee) or not. However, I know the political work he does.

"I do know he is committed to independent politics, and that's the key thing for me."

Mr Donnelly said he was at the count centre as an independent councillor to support Mr Pringle and that his links to the group were "irrelevant".

He added: "I am here as an independent councillor - because I believe the independent model is the way forward."

Earlier, Gallagher and Joe McHugh had been elected on the 11th count. The vote left MacLochlainn just 74 votes ahead of Pringle, but the surplus from the two candidates left Mr Pringle on 10,082 votes and Mac Lochlainn on 9,898.

On Saturday, Charlie McConalogue (FF) topped the poll and was elected on the first count, almost doubling his first preferences.

McConalogue (38) was one of the few Fianna Fáil candidates elected in 2011 to actually increase his vote at the time. His popularity in his native Inishowen also damaged Padraig Mac Lochlainn, who said while the Sinn Féin vote in Inishowen had held, the drop in support for him personally was "extremely disappointing".

He said he had become aware late in the campaign that a rumour had taken hold that he was rarely in the constituency.

"This is just untrue," he insisted.

Irish Independent

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