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Way up north

'Dubliners think Donegal may as well be on the moon'

Donegal independent TD Thomas Pringle talks to us about his native county’s uniqueness and why he left Sinn Féin.

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We’re thinking of going of Donegal, what’s the exchange rate like or will we bring sterling with us?

THOMAS PRINGLE SAYS this is the type of question he’s been asked more than a few times whenever he’s been in Dublin.

“That’s the mindset we’re dealing with,” he said as we discussed the many differences between his home county and the rest of the country.

As far as the Killybegs native is concerned, his constituency might as well be on another planet, such is the attitude of Dubliners he regularly encounters.

“Donegal is closer to Dublin than Kerry is, it’s closer to Dublin than west Cork is, but the mindset – and this [has been] brought home to me all through my life – when you come to Dublin is that Donegal may as well be on the moon,” the independent TD told

It is, he believes a legacy of the Troubles and the fact that just four kilometres of Donegal borders the 26 counties in the Republic Ireland, while the rest is linked to Northern Ireland.

But in lots of ways Donegal revels in being that bit different. It has been famously anti-establishment, with a long history of rejecting referendums. It voted down the Fiscal Treaty in 2012, both Lisbon treaties before that and it even said No to the Children’s Referendum in 2012.

‘Donegal has suffered’

Nicky Ryan /

Donegal people are very astute, Pringle believes and he thinks the idea that the county is anti-establishment is “a myth”. After all, it did vote to reject the abolition of the Seanad, and it also endorsed the same-sex marriage referendum last year.

I think if you look at it over the last number of years, Donegal people have been very astute and have been very strategic in what they’ve done in terms of the ballot box.

The issues affecting the county are the same as they are in most parts of the country.

It’s been hit badly by emigration during the crisis, while unemployment has remained staggeringly high despite the supposed economic recovery.

The Central Statistics Office says the current unemployment rate is just over 26%, which is twice the national average. Even during the Celtic Tiger, the county was a blackspot when it came to joblessness. In January, Pringle also told the Dáil that 40% of disposable income in Donegal comes from welfare payments.

“I mean 60% of the population of Donegal have medical cards, 40% of disposable income is made up of social transfers and that shows the neglect of Donegal and the neglect of rural Ireland. It shows massive unemployment and it shows a county that has suffered over the years,” he told us.

Pringle thinks better access to broadband would go someway towards helping the county, which has been notoriously bad for internet coverage.

It emerged last year that rural parts of Donegal may have to wait another six years for access to broadband, while Dragons Den panelist Peter Casey recently wrote for this website about the “pathetic” lack of coverage in the area.



In 2010, the Western Development Commission, which promotes social and economic development in the region, estimated that 18,000 jobs could be created simply by improving internet access.

But Pringle claims the government ignored the report despite, he said, his belief that broadband would go along way towards increasing economic output in the region.

People in Donegal have to be ingenious. They have to work hard to make a living for themselves and that would give them tools to be able to do that and to be able to do that into the future.

Pringle will continue to fight for broadband access, but will do it outside of government, insisting that there would be no benefit to engaging with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil in talks to form a government.

But that doesn’t mean he wants to stay in opposition all his life, claiming: “I do believe that you could see a government led by independents, rather than one of the established political parties, I think that’s possible.”

He said this could be one or two elections away, though many of the political commentariat would dismiss the notion as mad.

“Yeah I’d say they do alright,” Pringle acknowledged. “But do you think the political system we have now isn’t mad?”

Here you have the two right-wing/centre right parties in the country with a majority, who refuse to talk to each other simply because of personalities and a bit of history.

The Sinn Féin experience / YouTube

He will also, he said, remain firmly in the independent camp, having rejected party politics nearly a decade ago. Pringle joined Sinn Féin for three years in the mid-2000s, but left the party, citing internal matters and the suggestion that Sinn Féin was looking to negotiate with Fianna Fáil before the 2007 general election.

“I always say that I don’t regret joining Sinn Féín, but I don’t regret leaving Sinn Féin either. I think it was a very good learning experience. It reaffirmed for me that a political party system is not the way to develop politics in the country,” he said.

Many political observers in Donegal believed the party targeted Pringle in the last general election by running three candidates in a bid to deny him a seat.

But the tactic backfired spectacularly when Sinn Féin only took one seat with high-profile TD Padraig MacLochlainn losing out. Pringle took the last of five Dáil seats on 13th count.

He’s not scared of a second election and told us that he wouldn’t sell his soul just to avoid it.  As for sterling, Pringle didn’t have any on him, but added:

I have a very good rate, if you want one.


WATCH: Why this TD won’t be selling his soul to stop a second election

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