Labour candidate Frank McBrearty was a surprise early casualty in the Donegal South West by-election as Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty cruised to victory last night.
After polls indicating McBrearty would take anything up to 19%, McBrearty polled a disappointing 3,366 votes, around 10%, and crashed out after the second count. Most of those missing votes seem to have gone directly to Doherty, who with 13,719 first preference votes had a commanding lead from the outset.
The reason for McBrearty’s dramatic fall off in support is a likely a mixture of a number of things: McBrearty’s media performances were poor to the point of infamy, whereas Doherty was solid throughout and never looked like losing the lead. Also, McBrearty’s home region in the Finn Valley is naturally amenable to Sinn Féin, and these factors together may have contributed to soft Labour supporters switching their vote at the last minute.
Doherty was about 6,000 votes ahead of his nearest rival Fianna Fáil Senator Brian O’Domhnaill, who has seen the party’s vote collapse by over 60% since the last General Election with his 7,354 votes.
The erosion in Fianna Fáil support has prompted speculation that Fianna Fáil may only run one candidate in the next election, an extraordinary and unprecedented move. Speaking after the count, Mary Coughlan said “it would be a matter for the party” whether they follow a one or two candidate strategy.
Minister for Social Protection Eamon O’Cuiv has claimed he isn’t worried by the Sinn Féin surge, claiming “to extrapolate these numbers would have Sinn Féin at 1918 levels of support. I’m not naive in politics”.
In spite of Fine Gael’s large lead in national polls, their candidate Barry O’Neill fared poorly, polling 6,424 first preferences, about 19%. He claimed however he would fight the convention for the party’s nomination at the next election, even though current incumbent Dinny McGinley will be hoping to not just keep the seat but potentially receive a place at cabinet at the next government.
The surprise package of the day has been independent councillor Thomas Pringle, who outpolled Frank McBrearty and, in his own words, has primed himself to be “a pain in the neck” next time for Mary Coughlan if she decides to run again.
McBrearty, said while he was disappointed he hadn’t got more votes, he was still pleased to treble the Labour vote in the constituency and said with the help of transfers he’d be in the mix for a seat next time.