| 3.1°C Dublin

Coughlan accused of cynicism as FF faces battle to hold seat

FIANNA Fail faces a mammoth battle to hold on to a single seat in a constituency once dominated by the party, according to a new opinion poll.

The party's vote in Donegal North-East has collapsed by more than 35pc, which will see a 'down to the wire' battle between the sole Fianna Fail candidate and Labour for the final seat.

And outgoing Tanaiste Mary Coughlan was yesterday forced to deny accusations of "cynical electioneering" after she announced the advancement of a multi-million euro hospital extension in Sligo. The Minister for Health and Children came under fire from Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty during a live radio debate in the neighbouring Donegal South-West constituency.

But the news from Donegal North-East is even worse for the party, with a comprehensive poll carried out by the 'Tirconaill Tribune' last weekend indicating that Sinn Fein's Padraig MacLochlainn and outgoing Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh look comfortable to take the first two seats.

Labour's Jimmy Harte and Fianna Fail's Charlie McConalogue were both locked at 15pc.

The battle for the final seat will be down to transfers and geography may play a big part in electing the third candidate, according to the newspaper's editor John McAteer.

He pointed out that 31pc of voters had not decided how they will vote. Mr McAteer added that Independents such as Betty Holmes and Dara Blaney could play a significant role in deciding the final seat.

The poll showed the Fine Gael vote up almost 6.5pc from the last election and a rise of more than 10pc in the Sinn Fein vote. Meanwhile, Ms Coughlan was on the defensive yesterday. Last Monday, she announced the completion of a cost benefit analysis paving the way for a €59m extension at Sligo General Hospital to proceed. Speaking on Ocean FM's live election debate, she insisted it was not an election gimmick and said the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had first announced the project a year and a half ago.

"It had to go through a value for money costing," she said.

"That has been signed off and we are now proceeding with a €59m extension to the hospital."

But Mr Doherty described the announcement as a cynical move. "I do believe it was electioneering. I believe it was put out there 10 days before polling day to convince people this is all signed, sealed and delivered when the reality is that the money is not ring-fenced. The staff is not there to staff it."

Irish Independent