Tánaiste and MEP at odds over Donegal byelection


TÁNAISTE MARY Coughlan and North West MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher have become embroiled in a row about whether or not he was approached to contest the Donegal South West byelection.

Mr Gallagher has contended an approach was made to him by senior figures in Fianna Fáil, both locally and nationally, to contest the Dáil seat he himself vacated in June 2009 when he was elected to the European Parliament.

However, Ms Coughlan told local radio station Ocean FM yesterday she did not believe such a move was made.

Mr Gallagher responded last night by saying the Tánaiste was “not in the loop” about the behind-the-scenes moves. He said he had been approached this week by senior party figures, soon after it became clear the writ for the byelection would be moved.

“It is true that overtures have been made to me, both nationally and locally,” he said. “I do not want to get embroiled with her in an argument. However, Mary was obviously not in the loop. I can fully understand that because she has to protect her own base in southwest Donegal,” he said.

The national office of Fianna Fáil did not comment last night on the matter.

The dispute between the two senior Fianna Fáil figures in the constituency comes ahead of the party’s selection convention in Glenties tomorrow, where Gortahork-based Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill is expected to be nominated unopposed as the candidate. Yesterday, Mr Ó Domhnaill’s brother, Séamus, who was elected as an Independent councillor on Donegal County Council in 2009 – following a dispute with Fianna Fáil – announced he was rejoining the party.

Senator Ó Domhnaill yesterday said the election would have far-reaching repercussions. “It’s between parties with a negative outlook and parties that have plans for recovery. I will ensure the best decisions are taken for the people here in the future.”

Though no opinion poll has been taken, Sinn Féin candidate Senator Pearse Doherty has been installed by bookmakers as the clear favourite. His successful High Court challenge against the 16-month delay in holding the byelection is seen as having given him a large fillip.

“Fianna Fáil will put up a strong challenge. But people are not stupid and people know what Fianna Fáil has done to them and know what they will do in the budget on December 7th,” Mr Doherty said.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny will launch the campaign of its candidate, RTÉ sports producer Barry O’Neill, in Ballyshannon today. Mr O’Neill said the sharp increase in support for Fine Gael in the 2009 local elections would be continued. “People in Donegal will get a chance to vote on the Government in three weeks’ time and judge it for its record on cancer services, employment and infrastructure,” he said.

Labour candidate Frank McBrearty jnr yesterday apologised for using intemperate language in an exchange with the county manager.

“I am passionate about the people I represent and the issues that are of concern to them, and I accept that I sometimes may over-step the mark in my efforts to promote their interests,” he said.

Independent councillor Thomas Pringle has also declared his candidacy. Based in Killybegs, he said he wanted the people to be offered the option of an independent voice and vision. Former county footballer, Tom Conaghan from Donegal town, may also stand as an Independent.