Fiction of contrary Donegal ignores inconvenient truth
Lazy sneering has greeted another referendum No vote from Donegal and the people of the disaffected county find themselves dismissed as contrary conservatives once again.
Donegal voters can be forgiven for predicting they will be largely forgotten about by Dublin until the next time they buck the national trend at the polling stations.
Prior to the children’s referendum, voters in the two Donegal constituencies also rejected the fiscal treaty last May, the first and second Lisbon treaty referendums in 2008 and the following year, as well as Nice I in 2001.
If a Dublin constituency delivered such a pattern of negative results, the concern at Government level would be palpable.
However, voter behaviour in Donegal is met with a collective shrug of Cabinet members’ shoulders. Very little thought is given to the particular combination of economic, political and geographical factors motivating voters in that part of Ulster to say No repeatedly.
It should be said that the electorates of Donegal South-West and North-East are not entirely consistent. They voted Yes to the judges’ pay referendum last year, to the citizenship referendum in 2004 and to Nice II in 2002.
Donegal has the same economic problems as the rest of Ireland – it has just lived with them for longer. Soul-destroying levels of unemployment and youth emigration have blighted the region for years. The figures are beyond stark: the jobless rate among young people stood at 49 per cent this summer.
Additionally, companies declined in the past to locate in the Border area because of the Troubles. Nowadays, the infrastructure – which leaves much to be desired – is more likely to be a deterrent.
When did you last hear of a big jobs announcement coming out of Donegal? (Aside from the All-Ireland winning football manager Jim McGuinness’s appointment as performance analyst with Celtic, of course.)
Geography has played its part. Distance from the capital, combined with the dire economic situation, has fuelled the sense of detachment and almost dislocation from the State.
Sharing just a handful of miles of county boundary with Leitrim but otherwise bordering Northern Ireland can only have increased the undermining sense of living in something of an outpost or a forgotten county. The traditional emotional and financial attachment to cities such as Derry and Glasgow, rather than Dublin, can be easily understood. Although Sydney and Vancouver tend to benefit from the exodus of the younger generation these days.
Recent GAA success notwithstanding, Donegal people rarely hear or see themselves discussed in the national media because the county is, frankly, peripheral to decision-makers’ thinking.