Fiction of contrary Donegal ignores inconvenient truth
Donegal’s last-but-one No vote, in the fiscal treaty referendum last June, was widely perceived as the outworking of the county’s new-found status as a Sinn Féin “stronghold” since the last general election.
Fianna Fáil previously dominated, with four of the county’s six TDs elected from that party in 2007. One of them, Mary Coughlan, was elevated to the position of tánaiste as the economic crash struck.
Sinn Féin called a No vote in the fiscal referendum but when it advocated a Yes in the children’s referendum the call fell on deaf ears. The two constituencies rejected both constitutional amendments by a similar margin.
The party’s TDs have subsequently found themselves in the curious position of talking down their strength in the area as they try to rebut criticism from some Government deputies that Sinn Féin failed to “get its vote out” despite publicly backing the amendment.
Sinn Féin has one TD in each Donegal constituency: finance spokesman Pearse Doherty in South-West and justice spokesman Pádraig MacLochlainn in North-East. But there are two Government representatives in the region, Fine Gael Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley and party colleague Joe McHugh TD.
Prominent Independent Thomas Pringle and Fianna Fáil newcomer Charlie McConalogue were also advocating a Yes vote, giving lie to the spurious argument that Sinn Féin was somehow to blame.
The eleventh-hour exposure by the Supreme Court that the Government had misused public money on its information campaign prompted suspicion and confusion among the electorate in Donegal as elsewhere.
But constituents in the northwest of the country had been expressing real concerns to their representatives about the new Articles to be inserted into the Constitution in the days before last Saturday’s vote.
Blaming this on Donegal people’s innate conservatism is an oversimplification. The area’s relatively youthful TDs – four of the six were born in the 1970s – would argue that the county is not that much more conservative than other rural counties.
The situation in Donegal, brought about by years of neglect, contains a warning for the political establishment about disillusioned communities across the State.
Branding those who vote No in Donegal, Dublin, Cork or elsewhere as refuseniks and hoping that middle class elites in urban areas can carry the day in future referendums would be a mistake. Moreover, distrust in political figures of all stripes is on the rise.
Scoffing and choosing to remain in ignorance about what is influencing their voting patterns would be unwise.