It’s an absolute rarity, but Donegal is currently the center of the Irish political universe. Following a successful case to the High Court by Sinn Féin, Donegal South West faces a bye-election on the 25th November, nearly a year and a half since the seat became vacant. Up the road in Donegal North East, histrionic spoofer Dr Jim McDaid said bye bye to the Dáil after 21 years of doublespeak and scandal, bringing the government a case of glandular fever away from collapse.
The people of Donegal North won’t have to worry about replacing him just yet, but in Lifford across to Glenties and down to Bundoran the posters are already up. And while we’ll have a distinct lack of fiscally conservative CEO’s throwing their money around like a lightweight wrestling opponent or scarcely believable TV slots involving sheep, it should be an intriguing race all the same, for several reasons.
The prima facie politics of the bye-election are interesting in as much as this race provide a lot more than a new TD; it’ll show whether Sinn Féin in Donegal can finally transfer votes into seats, it’ll show if Labour can rise in the polls enough to make big gains out west in the next election overall, and it’ll also show the extent to which the death laser has travelled up Fianna Fáil’s trouser leg.
As it stands, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty looks set to take the seat, helped in no small part by the fact his actions precipitated the election in the first place.
Fine Gael’s Barry O’Neill and Frank McBrearty Junior of Labour ought to do themselves no harm either, with Fightin’ Frank’s transfers likely to be the decisive factor of the election. Brian O’Domhnaill, Fianna Fáil’s presumptive nominee, looks to be largely on a fool’s errand.
But it’s the satellite issues surrounding this election that make it truly compelling. Or maddening, whatever you’re having yourself. That the seat left vacant by Pat “The Cope” Gallagher’s election to the European parliament would stay vacant for 17 months is just plain negligent, and would likely be illegal in any other country. That the government would dodge holding it for over a year citing the reason they were too busy attending to affairs of state is not just cowardly but repugnant to democracy. That they would contest the High Court challenge is incredible, but that they would appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court is really appalling. Just how much attention are they paying to those affairs of state if they have time to take a case to the highest court in the land to cover their asses?
My personal favorite element of the story however is that Fianna Fáil asked Pat The Cope back from Brussels to run. In other words, they tried to get the man who gave up his Dáil seat to run for Europe to give up the European seat to contest the same Dáil seat he vacated. If Jonathan Swift were still alive, he’d probably throw his pen to the ground and his hands to the air. It’s impossible to write satire when real life trumps it so emphatically.
The nation’s media will set up camp here for the next few weeks, and as gratifying as it is to see Donegal focused on for once, I’d much prefer it if we were electing TD’s along with the rest of the country. With an unfathomably tough budget to be passed and a need for whatever government enacting their four year plan to have the authority and national sanction to do so, we can’t afford to have an election one constituency at a time.