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Coughlan heartland fears for her safety

SHE goes out at night, under cover of darkness. Locals worry for her safety. "I wouldn't say she was safe, not at all," said one shop attendant in Donegal town. "She's a lovely woman, she comes in here a bit . . . but she's not safe."

It isn't her personal safety the people of Donegal fear for, it's her Dail seat. It would be a complete disaster for Fianna Fail in the unlikely event that she wasn't returned.

Instead of Coughlan country, it's more like the Pearse Plains, with Doherty of the Shinners smiling from almost every lamppost.

But like an owl, she springs to life when the sun goes down. And when people least expect it, she swoops.

"What are ye at?" Tanaiste Mary Coughlan asked Martin Gorman during last night's canvass in the village of Laghey.

"Well, like the rest of the country, I'm unemployed," was the response. Eh, not the ideal response but the No 1 seems secure anyway.

It's the same in most of the houses in the small village, but you get the impression this is one of Ms Coughlan's strongholds, safe territory.

By night she canvasses, by day you'd be hard-pressed to find her. Although the Irish Independent did try.

We asked earlier in the week if we could go out with the Tanaiste on the canvass. We even suggested dates.

Ms Coughlan isn't canvassing during the day, we were told by her handlers. OK, can we go out at night? Nah, no can do, we were told.

"The last time I saw her around here was during the by-election when she was here with Brian Cowen," said Maria Kennedy from her sweater shop in Ardara. "I'll not be voting for her anyway."

Another man in Mountcharles, who didn't want to be named, said he hadn't seen her in a long time.

"I'd see her at funerals, I'm voting for Thomas Pringle this time anyway," he added.

Others grumbled that the constituency hadn't seen enough of a benefit from her time in government, unlike Dr Jim McDaid in neighbouring Donegal North-East, who dispensed goodies locally as a senior minister.

"That's one of the reasons she's not that well-liked," said a barman in Donegal.

In Ms Coughlan's hometown of Frosses there are more posters up for Fine Gael's Dinny McGinley and Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty than for her.

The residents of Coughlan Avenue -- named after her family -- see her quite regularly, and will be giving her the number one.

"We'll be voting for Mary," said Tracey Gallagher (30).

"She's our neighbour and she's always very good to us when we need it. My father is keen on Pearse, but he'll probably still vote for Mary."

After being told 'No' earlier in the week, we were finally told Ms Coughlan would be canvassing that night in Laghey, and we were welcome to come along.

There was not one dissenting voice among the houses canvassed, in stark difference to other towns.

"You've two number ones here," said Peggy Travers. "As long as you don't cut the pension."

No chance of that Peggy, Fianna Fail ain't gonna be in government next time out.

"You'd nearly know your vote around here," Ms Coughlan said.

True, but the problem is the places you don't.

Irish Independent