Donegal South-West: Poster boy gives party credibility
SINN Fein's new poster boy Pearse Doherty denies rivals' charges he is a master of the populist soundbite who is simply opposed to everything.
Since entering the Dail just nine weeks ago, he has partaken in just 14 full Dail sittings and enjoyed one of the shortest stints of any TD in Irish political history.
But the Donegal South West TD has raised eyebrows, provoked furious debate and spooked Labour in what has been a dramatic baptism of fire.
In the heat of recent battle with Sinn Fein's newly installed finance spokesman, a clearly irritated Pat Rabbitte (Labour) declared Sinn Fein was a "plague on all your houses; vote for us, we are against everything".
The former senator-turned-TD (33) only joined Sinn Fein in 1996 and is a generation removed from the Troubles and the traditional perceptions of Sinn Fein, which has left the party struggling for prominence in the south.
Unlike Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, who has been denied handshakes from some voters in Louth, Mr Doherty says he has never encountered similar levels of hostility.
"People have their views in relation to our policies. People have their views in relation to our position on the North and they're entitled to those views, but people have been very courteous," he told the Irish Independent.
And he's careful to insist there is no such thing as an old Sinn Fein merging into a new more marketable Sinn Fein which is drawing a distinct line between its past and future.
It is the "same party", he insists, before going on to reference his involvement with the peace process negotiating teams; his chairing of a special conference on policing; and the journey for a "peaceful settlement".
"I'm a republican to the core and republicanism is about equality. Things in the North have moved on. We've been part of that," he said.
In the space of just nine weeks, Mr Doherty has been credited with giving Sinn Fein a much-needed credible voice to its often criticised left-wing economic policies.
He has called for the Finance Bill to be scrapped, for the IMF deal to be abandoned and for agreements with senior bondholders to be broken--positions which have led to charges of "populism" from his rivals.
"We've a lot of work to do still because as you can see from a lot of the debates, the other parties are just saying this is nonsense from Sinn Fein," he added.
Selling the "alternative" vision is his primary job between now and polling day, alongside winning back the seat gained in November's by-election with a 40pc share of the vote.
Sitting Fine Gael TD Dinny McGinley is considered a safe bet for a seat, leaving Fianna Fail, Labour, Sinn Fein and Independents to create the drama. The high-profile by-election campaign by Fianna Fail Senator Brian O Domhnaill leaves him in position to compete for a seat--even the seat of his party colleague and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan.
Labour's Frank McBrearty trebled the party's vote in the by-election but could be outrun by Mr Doherty in the battle for just three seats.
Former Sinn Fein councillor-turned-Independent Thomas Pringle will also feature, having stayed ahead of Mr McBrearty in the by-election contest.
Mary Coughlan TD
Senator Brian O Domhnaill
Dinny McGinley TD
Cllr Frank McBrearty
Pearse Doherty TD
Last time out in 2007
? Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan topped the poll, exceeding the quota on the first count.
? Fine Gael’s Dinny McGinley, who had initially retired from politics only to do a U-turn, retained his seat.
? Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty trebled his 2002 vote but failed to win as Fianna Fail’s vote management won out to return Ms Coughlan and Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher.