Coughlan admits 'tough fight' ahead
FIANNA Fail conceded it faces a mammoth task to turn around yesterday's dramatic plunge in support.
The party's level of support in Donegal South West more than halved compared with 2007 in one of its strongest heartlands.
The by-election results marked a historic win for Sinn Fein, a steady performance by Fine Gael, but a disappointing finish for Labour.
Privately, Fianna Fail sources recognised that if it was now on just over 20pc in one of its safest constituencies in the country, it was on a much lower level of support in many other constituencies. That leaves the party poised to lose seats in every corner of the country at the next election.
Mr Cowen was the only leader not to make any public comment on the results last night, leaving it to his Tanaiste Mary Coughlan.
Ms Coughlan, who is a TD in the by-election constituency of Donegal South-West, conceded that Fianna Fail was going to have a "tough fight" ahead.
She said that the party will be "dusting itself down" after its support crashed in Donegal from 50pc to just over 20pc.
Fianna Fail MEP Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher, whose election to Brussels caused yesterday's by-election, claimed Fianna Fail now needed to "regroup".
If yesterday's by-election trend was repeated in a general election, Fianna Fail would face "political wipeout", according to Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.
Labour was fifth behind Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the independent candidate.
But Mr Gilmore last night insisted his party's 10pc showing in the by-election was a "sound foundation".
He denied the low level of support, which was a far cry from the party's 27pc-plus ratings in recent opinion polls, would damage its momentum going into the elections.
The only candidate to finish below Labour was Independent candidate Ann Sweeney who pulled out of the race.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who saw his party's support drop in the constituency, had planned on visiting the Donegal count-centre but cancelled due to appointments.
But the clear winners yesterday were Sinn Fein who could now form a technical group in the Dail with two other Independent TDs.
Such a technical group of seven TDs would give Sinn Fein speaking rights in the Dail and enable them to table their motion of no confidence in Taoiseach Brian Cowen.