So today the Irish government will move the writ for the Donegal SW. Wikipedia already has a page up and ready to go, with three candidates already named and ready to go: Frank McBrearty for Labour, Pearse Doherty for Sinn Fein and Barry O’Neill for Fine Gael. Its widely expected that the Fianna Fail candidate will be Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, when the party gets around to holding its convention.
In terms of choosing winners, keep your money in your pocket. SF will certainly be competitive in terms of first preferences, but the win line in a by election is much higher than that for taking a third seat in a General Election. The challenge facing them in getting sufficient transfers may prove too tough at this stage.
Despite his party getting hammered in the polls at the moment, Ó Domhnaill is respected by opponents and supporters alike, and is likely to remain competitive and above the current polling rate. Given this is a two seat Fianna Fail constituency (and Donegal is a resolutely FF leaning county), he should stay in the game till the end or near the end. Given the short lead in time, that could be as early as tomorrow.
In McBrearty Labour have a popular local councillor who will be significantly digging into the Finn Valley Fine Gael vote for his first preferences, and acting as a local foil for government discontent. So SF will likely pick up transfers from him when he goes out, but the larger part should return to FG’s man.
Fine Gael’s Barry O’Neill is the most untested choice. He had a very strong showing in the last local elections (about 2,000 votes), and he can probably rely on a strong degree of support from veteran FG TD, Dinny McGinley who had wanted to retire last time out and stayed in to keep a critical, Gaoth Dobhair based, SF challenge out.
On the whole this could be a useful precursor to the south’s pending general election. As noted before here on Slugger Donegal is an atypical testing ground for how that will go. So no extrapolations. But I’d be looking in particular at how reslient the FF machine is in is get out the vote campaign as much for who wins.
They won’t be looking to win the next election, but they will want to fight the rearguard action of their lives. A better than expected result for them will put that extra spring in their activist’s step they need to keep the electoral wolf from the door.