A new era of politics in Donegal begins this week following the general election which has changed the county’s political landscape.
Three new TDs - Padraig MacLochlainn, Charlie McConalogue and Thomas Pringle - will take their seats in the Dáil when it resumes tomorrow week. Of the six TDs who won seats in Donegal in 2007, only two - Fine Gael’s Dinny McGinley and Joe McHugh - will be returning to the Dáil.
The big shock of the election here was the fall of outgoing Tánaiste Mary Coughlan who lost her seat to Independent Thomas Pringle. Both Coughlan and her director of elections Brendan Byrne blamed the two candidate strategy for the loss of the seat.
Having spent 24 years in the Dáil and held five ministerial portfolios, the former TD will receive more than 300,000 euro over the next year and an annual pension of more than 130,000 euro.
With Fine Gael set to lead the next government the focus locally is turning to whether Dinny McGinley or Joe McHugh will be given portfolios in the new administration. McGinley has been tipped to be the next Gaeltacht minister and has also been linked to the position of Ceann Comhairle.
There is also speculation that long-serving Fine Gael councillor Bernard McGuinness could be rewarded with a seat in the Seanad. The Inishowen publican is credited with helping to deliver the party’s success in Donegal North East in the last two elections. Letterkenny councillor Jimmy Harte is also being linked to a seat in the Seanad after delivering a significant increase in Labour’s support in Donegal North East without returning a seat.
Mary Coughlan’s successor Thomas Pringle said yesterday that he had already been in contact with other newly-elected independents about forming a Dáil grouping. Normally on the last Monday of the month he would have been attending the monthly county council meeting, but yesterday afternoon he was on his way to Dublin to appear on TV3’s ‘Later with Vincent Browne’. “I will be meeting some of the independents tomorrow morning, but I don’t see any difficulty in getting a group off the ground,” he said.
The newly-elected TD has set the ball rolling in terms of the knock-on effect of the general election by announcing the successor for his council seat. Glenties teacher, John Campbell, who acted as director of elections for the independent candidate, will take the seat.
Two new councillors will be co-opted in the Inishowen electoral area to replace newly-elected TDs Padraig MacLochlainn and Charlie McConalogue. The co-options will be decided by the local organisations of Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. While no meetings have been scheduled to select the new councillors, it is expected their names will be known before the next council meeting. See pages 27-38.