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31 May 2007 Edition

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General election 2007 : Nail biting affair in Donegal North East

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn canvassing in Letterkenny

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn canvassing in Letterkenny

The election count in the three-seat constituency of Donegal North East proved to be a nail-biting affair with the battle for the last two seats going down to the wire. At the end, Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn lost out to sitting Fianna Fáil TDs James McDaid and Niall Blaney after the distribution of their party colleague and sitting deputy, Cecilia Keaveney’s transfers in the early hours of the morning.
In a day of disappointment for Sinn Féin, the result in Donegal North East was a good news story for the party. Pádraig Mac Lochlainn’s first preference vote of 6,733 (17.5%) was a huge increase on the last outing in 2002 where he took 3,611 (9.9%). Indeed, when the first count was declared, the Sinn Féin candidate had taken more first preference votes than each one of the three sitting TDs in the constituency.
The first count took what seemed like an eternity. The returning officer had asked that the counters take their time when it emerged from the tallies that there would be only hundreds of votes separating most of the front runners.
The first boxes to be opened were those from Inishowen, home to Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Fianna Fáil TD Cecilia Keaveney. The Inishowen peninsula makes up almost half of the Donegal North East constituency and, as the figures emerged, the news was good for Sinn Féin and Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh and bad for Cecilia Keaveney. Pádraig Mac Lochlainn had taken over 4,500 votes. Joe McHugh had motivated the core Fine Gael vote of over 3,000 in the peninsula, a trend that was to continue across the other boxes until he would subsequently top the poll. Cecilia Keaveney’s vote of 6,000 in the area she exclusively represented was well down on 2002 and eventually cost her the seat.


Keaveney transfers
As the other boxes in Letterkenny and Milford were opened in the political fiefdoms of McDaid, Blaney, and McHugh, their votes pushed up over the 6,000 mark and in McHugh’s case, took him to over 8,700 and a certain seat.
When the first count confirmed the accuracy of the tallymen and women, the only question was where would Cecilia Keaveney’s transfers go. Would they go local and to Buncrana based Pádraig Mac Lochlainn or would they go back to the party and to McDaid and Blaney? And if they went to the party, would they split evenly between McDaid and Blaney to elect both of them?
As the candidates with the least votes were eliminated one-by-one, the tension ratcheted up in the Mount Errigal Hotel count centre. Finally at about four o’clock in the morning, the questions were answered. The lion’s share of Keaveney’s 6,700 transfers had gone back to her party colleagues and had split evenly to take them both home ahead of Mac Lochlainn. It just was not to be Sinn Féin’s day. In Donegal though, the party can look forward to a bright future. With 15,000 first preference votes this time and a strong, confident organisation, their day will come.
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