Donegal profile: Sinn Féin has great chance to make early hay in Donegal
With two high-profile TDs and a wind at their backs, the party looks set to gain
The big question in Donegal is how Sinn Féin is going to do. Gerry Adams reckons his arrest over the murder of Jean McConville has “galvanised” the Sinn Féin activist base throughout Ireland and if he is correct there is no reason to expect that that energy boost won’t also transmit to Donegal.
Tip O’Neill said all politics is local and that must also be applied when trying to figure out the political shape of Donegal County Council when the votes are counted.
For instance, Donegal claims to have the oldest candidate in 83-year-old outgoing mayor of the council Ian McGarvey, an Independent who is standing again. He prides himself on “always being written off” but yet confounding the pundits, and hopes do so again, notwithstanding his venerability.
Another stalwart is Séamus Rodgers who, at 77, is seeking to regain his seat on the council which he held for 39 years but lost in 1999. He has been fighting elections since 1960 under numerous left-wing labels running from Sinn Féin the Workers Party, to the Workers Party, to Democratic Left and now to Labour.
On the other end of the age scale is Barry O’Neill from Ballyshannon, who manages to combine his time between operating as a Fine Gael local representative in Donegal and a full-time RTÉ sports editor in Dublin.
Such candidates can have support that has nothing to do with political labels. Local popularity, fighting on local issues and sheer political doggedness can win votes for them. Donegal Democrat editor Michael Daly says the usual issues are being discussed on the doorstep – water charges, austerity, jobs, attracting industry “and a pure lack of money” in people’s pockets.
He agrees that the local factor is key and notes how 30 of the 83 candidates are Independents, some of whom, based on their community standing and their work record, could pull a surprise or two against the bigger players.
But equally the figures can’t be ignored and in Donegal Sinn Féin has a great chance to make early summer hay. Donegal – with five electoral areas – now has 37 seats, up by eight since the scrapping of the four town councils, Letterkenny, Buncrana, Ballyshannon and Bundoran.
In 2009, with 13 per cent of the vote Sinn Féin won four seats, with Fianna Fáil coming in with 11, Fine Gael eight, Labour one and Independents five. But since then it gained high-profile TDs in the two Donegal constituencies, Pearse Doherty in South West and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn in North East.
Doherty captured a third of the vote while Mac Lochlainn took a quarter in the 2011 general election. Says Daly, “Sinn Féin has spent a lot of time researching the various areas in micro detail and are vote managing them very carefully with a view to winning two seats in some of the five electoral areas.”