Hard to keep up with energetic Tánaiste


There was no stopping Mary Coughlan as she swept through Donegal yesterday canvassing for a Yes vote, writes Seán Mac Connellwith Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, campaigning in Donegal.

THE POLITICIAN who was introduced on national television on Saturday night as "Ireland's most powerful woman", Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, swept up through Donegal yesterday like a tidal wave demanding a Yes vote from her people.

Coughlan, according to a quiet man who had been lurking on the Square in Donegal town, "is not the kind of woman you would want or like to say no to under any circumstances".

She had shaken his hand and asked him to come out on Thursday and he nodded. When I asked him after she moved quickly on what he was really going to do, he said he was not sure but he was not "telling Mary that".

Mary, queen of Donegal and Tánaiste of All Ireland, had joined the Fianna Fáil Yes bus which had travelled from Dublin up through Sligo, Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Donegal, to put, as she said herself, a bit of positivity about the place.

But that was not before she had put in a gruelling two-hour question-and-answer session on Ocean Radio chastising those who might say No, coaxing those who might not know and encouraging those who want to say Yes.

The women she met heaped her with congratulations on her performance on Miriam O'Callaghan's Saturday night show on RTÉ. Fianna Fáil election workers said her appearance was worth its weight in gold and would add Yes votes to the ballot boxes the day after tomorrow.

It was not unremarkable then that during the walkabout in Donegal she strayed purposefully into two boutiques, the women's section of Magee's tweed house and the newly opened Rosewood boutique, where she announced she had bought her top for Saturday's performance.

"I am down to my proper fighting weight now," she said, confirming that she had shed two stone in recent times to build up her energy and her health.

With all the training she has been doing, it was hard to keep up with her. Dressed in a black trouser suit and red top, she sped along the Donegal streets pressing the flesh.

Into a shoe shop in Donegal, where she found a man waiting for a pair of shoes to be fitted. "I have him trapped now, he can't go anywhere until he tells me he is going to vote Yes," she joked.

In Ballybofey, the Tánaiste was about to pull off another first, for gathered in Jackson's Hotel was every one of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs and Senators and nearly half of the county council.

Now as most people know, the Civil War still smoulders in parts of Donegal.

When they were asked was this the first time such a thing had happened, Fine Gael TD Dinny McGinley said he had never seen anything like it in his 30 years in public life.

"However, we were all together to welcome her home when she became Tánaiste," he added, "but that was a different platform altogether."

There were, of course, no Sinn Féin people present and as there is no elected Labour representatives in Donegal, there were none there either.

The Tánaiste ran the press conference like clockwork, ticking off the main issues, contradicting the claims on neutrality, abortion, taxation and commission representation and the veto - red-line issues, she said.

"It's going to be close all right," she conceded afterwards. "It's easier to sell a No vote, and we have been trying to sell Yes. We are getting it right now and we should win the day."

She left the hotel at a half-trot for Letterkenny. "Come on lads, we have a lot to do before Thursday," she said as she sped out the door and away.