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Pressure mounts on Cowen to call crucial by-election

THE Government was under growing pressure last night to announce the date for a crucial by-election in the Tanaiste's constituency.

Fianna Fail MEP Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, who vacated his Dail seat to run in the European elections last June, said that his former constituents in Donegal South West deserved to have three sitting TDs.

Mr Gallagher's election to Europe now means there are only two TDs for the constituency -- Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Fine Gael's Dinny McGinley.

The MEP said his "hunch" was that the by-election would be held in May, but the decision was a matter for the Government and the Dail. The Government has so far refused to move the writ and fix a date for the by-election which could turn the Coalition into a minority government.

A spokesman for Chief Whip Pat Carey said that the situation was "under review" and that all comments, including those of Mr Gallagher, would be taken on board. Mr Gallagher said he was effectively working as a TD and MEP at the same time but warned that his double-jobbing couldn't go on forever.

"One can't continue doing local work indefinitely," he said. "The constituency deserves three votes in the Dail."

The Government and "all of the rest" are tied at 82 votes each, although independents still bring the Government over the line in Dail votes.

Fianna Fail and the Greens rely on two former PDs, Mary Harney and Noel Grealish; and two independents, Jackie Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry, for support. Three "independent Fianna Fail" TDs -- Dr Jim McDaid, who is expected to rejoin the Fianna Fail parliamentary party soon, Dr Jimmy Devins, and Eamon Scanlon -- also tend to vote with the Government.


A defeat for Fianna Fail in Donegal would come as a major headache for Taoiseach Brian Cowen and cause further embarrassment to Ms Coughlan. Despite her position as deputy head of the Government, she twice failed to convince voters in her constituency to back the Lisbon Treaty.

Fine Gael will select its candidate next month. But a fight is brewing over the Fianna Fail nomination, with Senator Brian O Domhnaill lining up against local councillors.

Labour is expected to run Frank McBrearty Junior, the party's only county councillor in the constituency. Senator Pearse Doherty will run for Sinn Fein.

Irish Independent