An internal party poll carried out by Fianna Fáil shows tánaiste Mary Coughlan will have a fight on her hands to hold on to her seat, facing a two-pronged attack from party colleague Brian Ó Domhnaill and independent candidate Thomas Pringle.
The survey, seen by local newspaper the Donegal Democrat, shows Pearse Doherty (Sinn Féin) will top the poll, and is likely to hold the seat he won in last years byelection on the first count.
Doherty’s Gaoth Dobhar neighbour Dinny McGinley (Fine Gael) will finish a comfortable second, and should hold his seat.
But the real fight will take place for the third spot. Killybegs man Thomas Pringle is being viewed by many to be ‘transfer friendly’ and could take the seat from Coughlan. Based near her Inver base and attracting a strong protest vote, he should do well on transfers from Frank McBrearty (Labour) and will get benefit from Pearse Doherty’s transfers.
Coughlan has seen off the challenge from Pringle before, but with Brian Ó Domhnaill doing well, the three candidates are neck and neck for third place. Behind them is Frank McBrearty, with other independents far behind.
Ó Domhnaill is canvassing heavily and senior party officials in the Coughlan camp are clearly worried.
One senior Fine Gael observer described the Fianna Fáil two-candidate strategy as “crazy”, and said it could cost them the seat.
“If you only have one quota it is madness running two candidates. It was right for us the last time because there was just a quota got. For years Fine Gael ran two candidates and we were within a hairs breath of losing the seat because of the two party strategy. Sinn Fein obviously have the same philosophy as us,” the unnamed Fine Gael source told the Donegal Democrat.
“It is amazing that Donegal South West could be without a Fianna Fáil candidate after the next election. It is astonishing,” he added.
“I am keenly aware that this is a very risky strategy, to run two candidates in a situation where our vote is declining,” said Brendan Byrne, Fianna Fáil director of elections for the constituency.
“We run the risk of splitting the vote too evenly among our candidates and as a consequence losing out on transfers.”
Admitting that Ó Domhnaill was intended only to sweep up votes for Coughlan, Byrne said the party’s primary objective was “to retain Mary Coughlan’s seat and “we are campaigning for that and if possible to win back the seat which we lost in the recent by-election.”