By-election threat to coalition
The beleaguered Fianna Fail-Green Party coalition government could see its hold on power weakened today as voters go to the polls in a hotly contested by-election.
A parliamentary seat in the Donegal South West constituency became vacant 18 months ago when Fianna Fail's Pat "The Cope" Gallagher was elected an MEP.
Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty launched a successful legal challenge to force the Government to hold the delayed by-election and he is now favourite to seize the seat.
The result of the contest is by no means certain, but if Mr Doherty can win in the staunchly Fianna Fail region it will erode the Government's narrow two-seat majority.
This fresh danger comes at a time when backbenchers and independents are already threatening to vote against the Government's tough economic measures.
Donegal South West is a largely rural area hit by high unemployment, emigration and a weakened fishing industry.
The poll comes a day after the Government unveiled its austere four-year recovery plan, promising €3bn in social welfare cuts, a rise in tax and the axing of 25,000 public sector jobs.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen warned that no-one could be sheltered from his last-ditch €15bn economic recovery plan as he clings to power.
The announcement comes as European officials, plus representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are in Dublin negotiating an additional €85bn rescue package to help bail out the economy and rescue the bank.
Under such unprecedented pressure the Fianna Fail candidate Brian O Domhnaill faces a huge task in holding the seat for his party, but given traditional Fianna Fail support in the area, a win against the odds could not be ruled out.
The main opposition party Fine Gael is represented by Barry O'Neill, while Labour candidate Frank McBrearty gained prominence through his family's successful campaign against garda harassment.
Former Sinn Fein member Thomas Pringle is standing as an independent. A further independent candidate, Ann Sweeney, has withdrawn from the contest.
The polls open at 7am and close at 10pm, with the count taking place on Friday.
Whoever wins will soon have to face a re-run of the contest, with the Government promising an election early next year, if it can survive long enough to see its tough economic plans made law.