The results of the Children’s Referendum, in which Donegal was the only county to reject the proposed change to the Constitution, has resulted in a lot of soul searching, not only in the county, but in the national media.
RTÉ’s flagship current affairs programme, The Frontline, devoted a good portion of its broadcast on Monday night to the topic. The show featured Donegal North East TD Charlie McConalogue and the President of the Union of Students in Ireland, John Logue, who is a native of the county, on the panel. The invited audience also included retailer Brian Flanagan, haulier John McLaughlin and anti-VRT campaigner Ryan Stewart.
The topic on hand was why Donegal has bucked the national trend and rejected a number of referenda, including the most recent one.
The only referendum which the county wholeheartedly supported was the one which proposed a reduction in the level of judges salaries.
On Frontline on Monday, the general consensus was that the latest No vote was as much a protest against the lack of investment in Donegal and the government in general as it was to do with any specific rejection of the proposals.
Ryan Stewart made the point most effectively when he said: “You have to look at the history of why Donegal consistently votes No. Ten years ago, when the Celtic Tiger was booming, we had unemployment in Donegal of 15%. Now, nationally, it’s 15% and there’s a crisis. It’s 32% now in Donegal.”
Brian Flanagan had a different opinion: “Donegal normally votes No because Donegal normally gets it right. We’re in a position where we’re not on the gravy train like other counties. We would be, therefore, in a position to look at things more objectively, I think.”
John McLaughlin said he voted No because he “just can’t trust the government”.
The Donegal Democrat sought the views our representatives in Europe - Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP and Marian Harkin, MEP - as well as political analyst Harry McGee, whose father is a native of the county.
Mr McGee told the Democrat: “The political landscape has changed radically in Donegal over the last twenty years. The county used to be dominated by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
“However, Donegal has been affected disproportionately by the downturn in the economy and the loss of its traditional industries such as textiles. The county is like the Rust Belt in America’s Mid-Western States, where the car industry went into terminal decline and nothing was brought in to replace it. “This has exacerbated Donegal’s sense of isolation. The county’s borders are 90 per cent with Northern Ireland and only 10 per cent with the Republic.
“In addition, as the traditional industries went into decline, the county saw more urbanisation and more people going onto third level education. This led to a change in political allegiances, as reflected in the emergence of Sinn Fein, Labour and Independents.
“Still, the people of Donegal are, broadly speaking, more conservative - Catholic and Protestant - than in other areas.
“All these factors combine to make Donegal definitely ‘a place apart’. However, I do believe that the economy is the biggest factor. There is a disconnect, a breakdown beween the citizen and the State in Donegal that is more apparent than in other counties.” Continued on page 4.