Behind Closed Doors
SOUTH/WEST OPINION POLL
The TG4 opinion poll is hardly an eye opener - the only surprise is that nobodys surprised! This constituency, which the Celtic Tiger left untouched, is ready to give the Fianna Fail candidates a massive 55% of its votes. This is not a surprise, as the Fianna Fail team of Mary Coughlan and Pat the Cope Gallagher is a very strong combination and continues the Coughlan and Cope tradition of over twenty years.
The collapse of the Gildea vote is hardly a surprise either. A single localised issue is really only of use for one election. By taking the Cope back, Fianna Fail has shored up its west Donegal support and the well deserved ministerial appointment of Mary Coughlan gave recognition to South Donegal. I dont see it as co-incidental that the Fianna Fail election prospects nationally are on the rise - butterflies have flapped their wings and there is now a wind in the air coming in behind the Government.
FINE GAEL WEAKNESS
There is of course one big surprise in the poll and that is the weakness of Fine Gael, which has also fielded its strongest team of Dinny McGinley and Jim White. Twenty years ago this combination had 38%; this poll gives them a combined total of only 21% which is well short of a quota.
There is of course an explanation for this but it doesnt get much attention as there are a number of elements involved, both local and national, which Fine Gael prefer to ignore. At any rate, being so short of a quota leaves Fine Gael vulnerable but they will go into denial on this.
There is no way we can lose this seat will be the instinctive Fine Gael response and it is this superficiality which is one of the big reasons for their low standing. This attitude cost Fine Gael their north-east seat in 1997. When a single seat sitting deputy puts all his energy into making sure the party gives him a weak running mate, then the party strength gets gradually eroded.
Of course the question of who can take the seat from Fine Gael arises? Well if the Fine Gael vote is 21%, this means there will be 29% available to the other candidates, none of which will have any affinity towards Fine Gael. This is very early days in the election, but Fine Gael can be thankful that Jim White is in the field otherwise Dinny McGinley could have gone the way of Paddy Harte.
Baldy Noonan is the election epithet to be applied to the Fine Gael leader and its association with the defeated Tory leader Hague is damaging. This epithet will also automatically continue the heightened awareness of his No Tears role. He has an uphill battle to fight his way out of this and he will need the help of all his colleagues - but the selfish protection of their own vote will inhibit many of his single seat T.D.s from getting into the fight. This will be particularly true in this constituency.
In this election the Fine Gael candidates will use the same slogans and arguments as Sinn Fein, Thomas Pringle and Seamus Rogers, which will make for strange bedfellows. They will be joining the anti-everything brigade and making a huge mistake. Fine Gael will have to acknowledge that Celtic Tiger prosperity has come to Donegal and is evident here as it is in Dublin. There is a huge increase in business enterprise and the county has finance available for houses and cars like never before - the major towns of Killybegs, Donegal, Ballybofey, Ballyshannon and Bundoran are buzzing. Having acknowledged all this Fine Gael should present positive policies to manage all this prosperity in a more equitable and progressive way.
THE MARCH REFERENDUM
This is no way to run a country - confusing referendum after confusing referendum. This episode in the abortion controversy is similar to all the others except that the pro-life groups are on opposite sides of the Yes and No. I suppose the body politic should take comfort from this split between moderates and extremists.
I would not hold my breath - whatever the result in March - the first cry will be for another referendum and supreme court test cases.
Over twenty years ago, Charlie Haughey and Garret Fitzgerald were politically blackmailed into the first abortion referendum and nothing has changed since, except that pregnant women now have the right to information as a result of the 1992 referendum.
The initial referendum supporters in 1982 were given quite a shock by the decision of the supreme court in the X case. It seemed a perverse legal decision at the time but many people were relieved and it led to the sensible constitutional amendment giving the right to travel.
By their own lights the pro-life groups would have been better advised to rely on the elected legislators, but then they have always held elected representatives as less than trustworthy and this attitude has increased in stridency over the years. Indeed they have added greatly to the anti-European groups stridency in European referendums. I suppose that having gone down this road there is no turning back.
Well, I think this referendum is all about rolling back the supreme court decisions in the X case and the C case and has nothing at all to do with addressing the fact that up to six thousand women go from here to England every year for abortions.
As far as the politicians are concerned, it is the phony war before the election.
God bless Ireland.
TOURISM COLLEGE DEBATE
Independents are a threat to Democracy was the proposition debated at the Killybegs Tourism Committee debate on Friday Feb. 15th.
The Independents Thomas Pringle, Thomas Gildea and Marian Harkin opposed the motion and won the debate handsomely. A large element leading to the victory may be the fact that Declan McHugh, Seamus Rogers and Jim White are very independent minded themselves.
As I mentioned earlier, if all these Independents were to forge canvassing alliances, then the constituency could be blessed or cursed with another Independent come May - but on the basis of the TG4 poll - it will not be Thomas Gildea.
The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland
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