My first by election post
As I type this, I’m on a bus from Dublin to Ballybofey. In all likelihood, I’ll be based there for the next 10 days, working on Frank McBrearty‘s by election campaign.
After a crazy week in which I visited Tralee, Tuam, Rathowen and Galway, I finally headed for Donegal South-West last Saturday morning. I’ve never worked a by election campaign before, so there’s always a certain amount of excitement involved in getting stuck into something I haven’t been involved in before. And I had only met Frank a few times before, so I was very curious to see what the reaction within the constituency to his candidacy would be.
As I arrived in Bundoran, I was greeted by the familiar sight of campaign posters (including one bizarre Fianna Fáil poster using this image in which Brian ó Domhnaill’s eyes have been photoshopped in a scary way). Nothing makes me feel like a campaign has started quite like election posters – I think they have a limited enough impact, but you can usually judge the strength of a campaign reasonably well based on the quality of the postering. On that analysis, Pearse Doherty, ó Domhnaill and Frank McBrearty are the only candidates at the races – Barry O’Neill’s postering is dreadfully patchy. None of the candidates running away with the postering race, but Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have stolen a bit of a march at this point.
Having dropped our stuff off at Jackson’s Hotel in Ballybofey, myself and Karen raced to catch up with the canvass team in Dungloe. Pretty soon, we bumped into Deaglán (whose piece on today’s Times can be found here), and shortly after that, Frank and the gang rolled into town. Talkin’ bout a revolution was blaring from the McBrearty mobile campaign unit, and a huge team of local members and Labour TDs (Eamon Gilmore, Emmet Stagg, Jack Wall, Joe Costello as well as Cllrs. Emer Costello and Jimmy Harte) descended upon Dungloe.
Using this leaflet, the town of Dungloe was soon canvassed to within an inch of it’s life – a fate likely to be repeated several times during the remainder of the campaign. The first encouraging thing for me, was that Frank is clearly extremely well known – there was no need for him to be introduced to voters, which is always an enormous benefit in a short campaign like this one. And the second encouraging sign for me, was the level of popularity with which he was greeted. As we continued the canvass across the Glenties electoral area, the response was similar, and was repeated further at masses in Ballybofey, and canvassing in Donegal town on Sunday.
It’s certainly no secret that Labour have been weak in Donegal in recent years. In the 2007 General Election, Seamus Rodgers was our candidate, polling 2.79% of the vote, or 1,111 first preferences. By the time of the local elections last year, this had risen considerably, with Labour taking 8.36% of the vote, or 3,476 votes across the local electoral areas of Glenties, Donegal and Stranorlar (where Frank was elected to the council with 12.5% of the vote). In addition to Frank’s election to the council, Seamus Rodgers was very nearly elected in Glenties, while Martin Farren was elected in Inishowen (Donegal North-East), and has been joined by Cllr. Jimmy Harte from Letterkenny on the Labour benches of the council in recent months.
The point of which is that Labour are clearly building a new vote in Donegal, which makes us contenders in a race we have always been written out of. So much so, I put my money where my mouth was today, and put 50 quid on Frank to win. He may be an outsider, but based on what I saw over the weekend, at 11/1, he’s the best value dark horse I’ve come across in a while…
As an aside, Suzy has put together a good round-up of the campaign to date, which is well worth checking out for anyone keeping an eye on the campaign.