The prediction of Doherty’s victory will come as a surprise to many. It would make the job of government whips more difficult on Budget Day, but it is unlikely to topple the government immediately.
The real significance in yesterda’s poll lies in the under-reported questions Red C asked about voting intentions in a general election, which show Doherty topping the poll with 31 percent of first preferences, followed by Frank McBrearty (Lab) 18 percent, Dinny McGinley (FG) 13 percent, Barry O’Neill (FG) 12 percent, Mary Coughlan (FF) 10 percent, Brian Ó Domhnaill (FF) 9 percent, and others (principally independent councillor Thomas Pringle) 7 percent.
Pearse Doherty TD has been a realistic prospect for some time to students of the northwestern constituency. But the thought of two left-leaning TDs (Doherty for Sinn Fein and McBrearty for Labour) in such a conservative constituency is a political sea change, especially given the results of referendums in Donegal SW on social issues like abortion and divorce.
In light of the results, Fine Gael may decide to opt for a single candidate in the constituency. McGinley, who has held his seat since 1982, is regarded as a canny local operator, and would likely hold his own.
But even if Fianna Fáil opted for a single candidate, the chosen candidiate (most likely Mary Coughlan) faces a tough battle.
Transfers make all the difference in determining who gets the final seat, and there are many ways for McBrearty to make good on the Gilmore Gale — the momentum building behind Labour’s leader.
In addition, the constituency has a local reputation for standing up to the powers that be, whether council managers or national tribunals. Indeed, McBrearty’s name recognition from the Morris tribunal is one of the reasons why Labour have gone from less than two percent in Donegal to being real contenders.
McBrearty is a natural protest candidate, and will pick up votes from that alone, first from Doherty’s surplus, then Pringle’s transfers. Fine Gael candidate McGinley is unlikely to have a large surplus of votes (historically, the combined FG vote is 25 percent, barely a quota) but whatever there is will transfer heavily to Labour if a voting pact is in place.
Remarkably, in that most loyal of Fianna Fáil constituencies, 46 percent of voters want to see Eamon Gilmore installed as Taoiseach.
A few weeks ago, in a review of the constituencies, political correspondent John Drennan wrote that the chances of McBrearty taking a seat were so slim that, if it happened, Labour was probably looking at an overall majority.
Fianna Fáil sources in Donegal have been worried for some time about the McBrearty Factor, thanks to internal polls. The Red C poll shows they have good reason to worry.
[Note: Red C interviewed a random sample of 510 adults in Donegal Southwest between 12-16 November. The margin of error is estimated at +/-4.5 percent at 95 percent confidence level. The poll was commissioned by Paddy Power bookmakers.]