#GE16 #Donegal: Big push from ‘the Cope’ should ensure Fianna Fáil takes one back…


DonegalCurrent TDs

Donegal South West

Pearse Doherty TD (Sinn Féin), Dinny McGinley TD (Fine Gael), Thomas Pringle TD (Independent)

Donegal North East

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD (Sinn Féin), Charlie Mc Conalogue TD, (Fianna Fáil), Joe Mc Hugh TD (Fine Gael)

Total seats in 2016 General Election: 5

Donegal is a new 5 seat constituency which has been created by the amalgamation of two former three seat constituencies. Additionally, almost 9,000 people from south of the county have been unceremoniously dumped into the new Sligo-Leitrim and West Cavan constituency (now, there’s a name that trips off the tongue!) The exiled population come from the towns of Ballyshannon, Bundoran and surrounding areas.

Long serving Fine Gael TD Dinny McGinley announced his retirement leaving the five sitting TDs fighting for the five seats on offer.

Main Areas:

  • Letterkenny, population – 19,588
  • Buncrana, population – 6,839
  • Ballybofey–Stranorlar, population – 4,852
  • Donegal Town, population – 2,607
  • Carndonagh, population – 2,534
  • Lifford, population – 1,658
  • Bunbeg – Derrybeg, population – 1,553


  • Pearse Doherty TD, Sinn Féin (Glenties area)
  • Padraig Mac Lochlainn TD, Sinn Féin (Inishowen area)
  • Cllr. Gary Doherty, Sinn Féin (Stranolar area)
  • Pat the Cope Gallagher, Fianna Fáil (Glenties area)
  • Charlie McConalogue TD, Fianna Fail (Innishowen area)
  • Paddy Harte Jnr, Fine Gael (Letterkenny area)
  • Thomas Pringle TD, Independent (Donegal – Killybegs area)
  • Cllr. Niamh Kennedy, Independent Alliance (Donegal – Killybegs area)
  • Cllr. Dessie Shiels, Independent (Letterkenny area)
  • Minister Joe McHugh TD, Fine Gael (Letterkenny area – Milford Peninsula)
  • Cllr. Ian McGarvey, Independent (Letterkenny area – Milford Peninsula)
  • Paula Flanagan, Green Party (Glenties areas)
  • Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jnr, Independent (Stranolar area)

This constituency is shaping up to be a humdinger and almost anything could happen. At least eight candidates have some prospects of success and only two can be said to be almost certain to win a seat. With so many candidates contesting, getting into the frame (top five) on first count will be vital.

Let’s start by looking at the geography. Donegal can be broken into distinct areas which each have a unique identity and strongly supported local champions – the Irishowen Peninsula, the Milford (Fanad) Peninsula, the greater Letterkenny area, Glenties encompassing much of the Donegal Gaeltacht, Donegal Town to the south west and finally the Finn Valley area around the twin towns of Ballyboffey – Stranolar.

Letterkenny is by far the largest urban area in the county. It is an added complication that none of the main parties are fielding a candidate from this town.

Due to the balance of populations and strong local voting patterns it’s likely that at least 2 TDs will be elected from each of the old constituencies. As the population in Donegal North East slightly exceeds that of the more southern constituency, candidates in this region may have an advantage in the battle for supremacy. 

Sinn Féin have been riding high of late – though local talk of the party achieving over 40% in opinion polls should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Sinn Féin is an established brand in the county and has already won over the kind of voters it will attract for the first time in other constituencies. 

Any additional gains over 30% will be hard won. Such is the party’s confidence that it is running three geographically well distributed candidates and can talk of taking three seats.

Vote management to secure multiple seats is a challenge that Sinn Féin hasn’t faced before. Voters aren’t used to having a choice amongst Sinn Féin candidate and it will be very interesting to see the impact of this.

Pearse Doherty is a national political star who’s very personable and will command support right across the county particularly amongst young people, floating voters and those in areas that do not have their own Sinn Féin candidate – such as Letterkenny.

In north Donegal Padraig MacLochlainn has been one of the more high profile Sinn Féin TDs of the past five years.  His home base of Buncrana on the Inishowen peninsula will give him a strong foundation. However he doesn’t have the star power of Pearse, and populist voters will be hard to control. 

The third Sinn Féin candidate Gary Doherty also has some attractive points but there’s less votes in the Finn Valley than Inishowen and he has significantly less name recognition.

Pearse Doherty is almost certain to top the poll and to be elected with a surplus.  His transfers should keep MacLochlainn in a clear second place within sight of the finishing line. Critically that will leave two Sinn Féin candidates still requiring transfers. In this scenario it is hard to see the second Doherty actually getting into the frame ahead of so many other candidates.

Running three candidates is a safe strategy for a party likely to secure over 2 quotas and it may pay dividends next time.

Fine Gael’s strategists are extremely concerned by a likely slide in the party vote there and have long since given up the pretence of winning two seats. Paddy Harte was a late addition to their ticket. Sometimes selecting two candidates and dividing the vote equally can backfire if there’s only one possible seat available.

It is unlikely that Fine Gael’s Joe Mc Hugh and Paddy Harte Jnr will be victims of this trap. While McHugh may have faced some ridicule at being a Minister for the Gaeltacht who doesn’t speak Irish, he has used the position to deliver for his native county and he should be well ahead of his running mate.

In a sprawling 5 seat constituency it will be very hard for one party candidate to cover all the ground so it seems that running a second candidate to act as a sweeper is sensible. A vote share percentage in the mid to late teens between both candidates should see McHugh into the frame and likely to be safely in the top five once his running mate is excluded.

McHugh will benefit from being the incumbent, having access to Letterkenny, a small but reliable core vote for Fine Gael and finally a factor that shouldn’t be underestimated in a larger field – personality. McHugh’s got a good likeability factor.

A third candidate who’s good in the likability stakes is Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McConalogue. He’s also done well in the luck stakes in this political career to date benefitting from the late withdrawal of former deputy Niall Blaney in 2011 to go from the role of sweeper to flagbearer and ultimately taking the only seat for Fianna Fáil in Donegal.

While he is based in the far north near Carndonagh there is a strong party vote in the Inishowen peninsula which will give him a solid base. He’s also cleverly employed some of former Tanaiste Mary Coughlan’s political staff for the past five years which may give him some traction amongst her old supporters – particularly those with no love for running mate Pat the Cope Gallagher. 

In Donegal South West Pat the Cope Gallagher is a legendary constituency worker and has an insatiable appetite for politics. “The Cope” is a Donegal phenomenon and will leave no stone unturned in the quest for votes. Fearing the Pierce Doherty popularity in his home area he will raid into erstwhile McConalogue territory in north east Donegal.

He will get some support from Gaeltacht voters in Fanad, the former Blaney faction and, unusually for a Fianna Fáiler, he can be expected to attract some transfers from Sinn Féin as his family has solid republican credentials. This may prove vital in later counts when the elimination of the third Sinn Féin candidate will effectively decide the election outcome. 

Fianna Fáil have two relatively evenly matched candidates, whichever gets ahead of the other will definitely win a seat and many party activists locally would favour the Cope for this. However in a crowded field it would be foolish to underestimate McConalogue’s personality and likability factors.

If the local election performance of Fianna Fáil can be repeated then both candidate should be in the frame in the first count with just over 2/3s of a quota each. Significantly both candidates will need transfers and they both appeal to different voters.

There’s a significant independent vote base in Donegal. This may even be close to the largest segment in the constituency. The most high profile independent candidate is Deputy Thomas Pringle who benefited from the Fianna Fáil meltdown in 2011 to slip into the last seat in Donegal South West.

As a TD he’s campaigned on left wing issues and does not appear to enjoy a great reputation for delivering on bread and butter local constituency matters. As a left wing independent he will stand out from the other independents in the constituency, but he is also vulnerable to leaking support to Sinn Féin.

Furthermore, Cllr Niamh. Kennedy of Shane Ross’s Independent Alliance is also in his backyard. She topped the poll in Killybegs in the local elections and will undoubtedly impact Pringle’s local vote. Being the highest profile woman in the field will also be to her advantage.

Kennedy and Pringle may nullify each other and while either could potentially attract support to get into the frame they may both be behind the two Fianna Fáilers and be looking to play catch up.

Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jnr is another independent candidate who could get up to 4,000 votes on a good day, but that won’t be enough to be credibly fighting for the last seat. 

At the northern end of the constituency there are at least two other independent candidates from Letterkenny; Ian McGarvey possibly the oldest candidate in the country and Cllr. Denis Shiels who should poll reasonably strongly. Even with a solid vote Shiels does not have enough of a support base to get into the final shake up.

Ultimately despite there being lots of independent voters, when it comes to later preferences they are likely to scatter to the four corners and with so many party candidates falling short of a quota until late in the day it’s likely that no one independent will consolidate support to get into the final seat.  

Watch out for: The Cope Gallagher ignoring any and all territory divides within the Fianna Fáil organisation as he fights to ensure a Lazarus like comeback. Sinn Féin’s efforts to implement a strategy to maximise its seat return.  Transfer patterns on count day could see even 10th preferences proving valuable.

Our prediction:   P. Doherty (Sinn Féin), MacLochlainn (Sinn Féin), McHugh (Fine Gael,) Cope Gallagher (Fianna Fáil) and McConalogue (Fianna Fáil)

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  • Kevin Breslin

    It’s finally up everybody!

  • Croiteir

    Surprised at FF getting two here – thought only one

  • mickfealty

    They hit close to 30% in 2014. As the lads say it is going to be very closely fought.

    Are you thinking two for FG? (The odds on Paddy Harte Junior have shrunk from 10/1 to 5/1 in pretty short order?)

  • Croiteir

    Yes I was – didn’t see the odds falling like that

  • mickfealty

    Its very tight geographical space for two from one party to fight..

  • Croiteir

    I know – but I do feel that they have a good chance, especially if they work together, but maybe that is naïve of me.

  • Croiteir

    30% in the councils?

  • mickfealty

    The expectation is that Joe will take a chunk of the Gaeltacht where he’s been very thick on the ground as junior minister, but I think Pearse will take a big chunk of that McGinley Gaeltacht vote from him, and ‘The Cope’ will grab another.

    I expect personality will bend a lot of the 2014 council vote right out of shape, but we’re talking about 15.7% FG base, and FF and Independents each on under 30% each.

  • mickfealty
  • Croiteir

    Yes – just checking we are on same page. I believe that FF are putting too much into that excellent return for them in the locals. I would point out that the locals are precisely that, local people dealing and voting with local people. Personalities will be voted for in spite of as well as due to their party affiliation. Look at the disaster the Euro was. Once the candidates were trying to garner support in areas where they were less well known they fell on their face. Brian Crowley was the only person who did well, but we will not mention his name again. I would suggest that the Dáil falls between the two. It will have a certain local influence, hence the importance of geographic spread of candidates but also has the detriment of not being local enough. And this to me is why I believe that FF will not do as well as they think. The locals effect will not be as productive.

  • mickfealty

    I do agree with you in principle but these Donegal figures aren’t even close Croiteir. This was a five FF/one FG combo till 07. The FF rump here is MUCH larger than elsewhere.

  • Robin Keogh

    Excellent again and thank you.

    Fianna Fail did quite well here in the locals at 29.1%. However, there was much commentary at the time that Fianna Fail’s performance at the locals was more down to lower turnout amongst Fine Gael and other voters rather than any real improvement in sentiment towards them. The local elections in Donegal is a good example, turnout was between 7 and 10 points below normal. Also, it has been argued that some people were happy to support their local fianna failer at council level but possibly not so much when it comes to national politics. The memory of the crash and decades of corruption might not be sufficiently dimmed to allow Fianna Fail get their hands on the levers of power again. In any event, private polling in the county seems to suggest they won’t hit 29% this time.

    Donegal has a strong republican tradition, many people (including FF party members) are not best pleased with Micheal Martins anti-Republican rants, and this is manifest in a serious drop in transfers going from SF to FF as seen in both the 2014 council elections and more pointedly the Carlow Kilkenny bi-election. The most recent Red C poll shows FF dropping back to 17%, even with their traditional polling day bounce of 2 or 3 percent, it will not be enough to save MM’s head and the country might see the back of someone who has been described as the worst opposition leader and worst Fianna Fail leader in contemporary Irish political history. In Donegal the only saving grace for FF is the fact that the candidates privately resolutely distance themselves from Martin because he is so unpopular in the county and beyond. However, that may not be enough, if FF get a second seat here it will be very very tight.

    Fine Gael is promising to take almost five billion out of the state’s revenue in tax breaks for the rich at a time when we are now in surplus rather than spend it on public services. As a county that suffers disproportionately with poor infrastructure this might not go down too well with muintir na tir na nog, however the party enjoys the support of Farmers and members of a relatively vibrant Protestant community so despite the lack of any labour transfers they will surely take one seat.

    It’s hard to believe that only 7 years ago my own party Sinn Fein had no Dail seat in Donegal. Now they are sizing up the possibility of three. Both sitting TD’s are phenomenally popular in the county with Pearse Doherty enjoying such adoration nation-wide. Both Pearse and Padraig will keep their seats. Putting up three candidates is a brave move but one that has been discussed within the party for some time, evenly spread and all very popular, a third seat is unlikely but not impossible. If SF take three seats here, it will be a crowning moment in what has been a phenomenal decade for the party.

    You don’t seem to give any weight to private party polling even though there has been a raft of them. Anyway I would say 2SF 1FF 1FG and Pringle coming in for the last seat in a battle with both SF and FF. Recounts all over the place.

    Wicklow Soon ? 😉

  • Robin Keogh

    My guy in Wicklow is1/7 😉

  • Robin Keogh

    I think that rump may have shrunk to just a bump.

  • mickfealty

    Got one knock back saying Pringle on Twitter. Two FG candidates could wake up the FG vote, but it’s mostly in the NE where both candidates are. As I say I think McHugh has been very active and visible in the Gaeltachtai, but I still think a chunk of that McGinley vote will go astray.

    Independent FPVs have to go somewhere, and they’ve a lot of choice, that’s what makes this so interesting. Not clear where Pringles transfers will come from. His needs a study all of its own. The SF sweeper might not help him if the effort is to get PadraigMacL over the line. If SF perform at the top end, then it could help bring him home.

  • mickfealty

    Wait for it, wait for it…

  • Tochais Siorai

    Not having much time for SF is very different to being anti-republican.

  • Robin Keogh

    ‘Not having much time for SF’ understatement of the decade quite possibly. Anyway, he will be away soon nursing his wounds please God.

  • Robin Keogh

    I think padraig will be on the buton from the get go, or else pearse will have a huge surplus which should do the trick. Doherty 2 will most likely transfer heavily to pringle.

  • mickfealty

    Doherty2 is third in line. Not sure when he goes out how much he’ll have to give…

  • Robin Keogh

    Its gonna be messy everywhere, tipperary is looking like a recount headache. Some contituencies have up to twenty candidates. Could take days to sort out. Had to cancel my ski trip 🙁

  • Discuscutter

    Pat the Cope is the wrong candidate, he is last decade’s man rather than of the future and if he wins and McCon. loses as a result it will set up SF nicely for a 3rd seat.

  • Discuscutter

    Micheal Martin is genuinely anti-republican,anti nationalist because he hasn’t much time for anyone in the North, including the SDLP.

    With regards to the North he would be closer to the conservative side of FG than many in FG are.

    If SF never existed then Martin would still have the same belief.

  • Robin Keogh

    Well said, he has completely misjudged the sentiments and opinions of a large swathe of the Irish public.

  • mickfealty

    That’s just the effect of the Crystal Ball Robin.. 😉

  • Robin Keogh

    Ya, but its so exciting Mick !!

  • Croiteir