OVER 61,000 PEOPLE are entitled to go to the polls today, as the voters of Donegal South-West elect a new TD to replace Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher, who left the seat vacant 17 months ago when he became an MEP.
Polling stations opened at 7am this morning and remain open until 10pm tonight – though voters on Donegal’s islands voted on Monday, as is traditional, to account for any difficulty in bringing the votes to land.
Sinn Féin senator Pearse Doherty is heavily favoured to win the seat, having forced the government to hold the by-election after winning a High Court case which ruled that there had been an “unreasonable” delay in filling the seat.
A Red C poll commissioned by Paddy Power two weeks ago showed Doherty commanding a massive lead in the opinion polls, with 40% of respondents saying they were likely to give him their first preference vote, while another 17% said he would receive their second preference.
With the quota in a single-seat election standing at 50% plus one vote, that poll would easily be enough to ensure that Doherty took the seat. Fianna Fáil’s Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, at 19%, was the closest challenger.
A local newspaper in Donegal, the Donegal Times, said earlier this week, however, that it believed Fine Gael’s Cllr Barry O’Neill was set to top the poll after his party leader Enda Kenny spent much of the weekend canvassing on his behalf in the region.
O’Neill had received 16% of support in the Red C poll, while Labour candidate Cllr Frank McBrearty Jr stood on 15%. Independent councillor Thomas Pringle stood on 8%.
On Tuesday, independent candidate Ann Sweeney (who enjoyed 2% support) unofficially withdrew from the race, saying the by-election had become ‘redundant’ following developments in Dublin where Fianna Fáil had agreed to hold a general election in the spring following calls by the Green Party.
Her name remains on the ballot papers, however, and Pringle may have received some votes from the island voting on Monday.
The count will begin tomorrow at the Finn Valley Aquatic Centre in Stranorlar, near the border with the neighbouring constituency of Donegal North-East, with a result likely to emerge by mid-late afternoon.