Elected: Pearse Doherty, Sinn Féin
1997. By late 2010, the huge unpopularity suffered by Fianna Fáil as a consequence of their actions in government, as well as the relatively small level of support traditionally offered to Fine Gael in that area, meant that there was a gap to be filled in Donegal. This gap had taken a physical manifestation with the election of Pat "the Cope" Gallagher to the European Parliament in June 2009. Gallagher had represented Donegal South West for Fianna Fáil between 1981 and 1997 and again from 2002 to 2009.
Donegal South West in the 2007 general election
|How the parties fared in Donegal South West in the 2007 election, with elected candidates named. Click to enlarge.|
Eventually, the government announced in early November 2010 that the by-election would be held on the 25th of that month. They also announced their decision to appeal Justice Kearns' ruling to the Supreme Court.
Donegal South West by-election, 25 November 2010
|The votes won by each candidate in the by-election. Click to enlarge.|
Doherty's exposure in the run-up to the announcement, as well as his efforts to see the by-election being called, led to a huge amount of support for him. He was widely expected to win the seat, and he topped the poll on the first count. Unlike in the last two by-elections, Fianna Fáil's Brian Ó Domhnaill came second, although they won just over half of the first preference votes won by Doherty. Fine Gael's Barry O'Neill came third. Fourth place went to independent left-wing candidate Thomas Pringle, while the Labour Party enjoyed a better than usual Donegal performance, with Frank McBrearty running as their candidate.
During the by-election campaign, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced that, in response to various pressures, he would call a general election in the early part of 2011. This prompted the other independent candidate, Ann Sweeney, to boycott the by-election and call it a "farce" coming so close to a general election. The voters of Donegal South West did not share her thoughts, with a turnout of 57%.
In that general election, Doherty was re-elected with an even bigger margin, while Fine Gael's Dinny McGinley also held his seat. The outgoing Tánaiste, Mary Coughlan, previously a poll-topper in the constituency, was roundly defeated by Thomas Pringle, ending any kind of Fianna Fáil representation in Donegal South West. The election of Pádraig Mac Lochlainn in Donegal North East signals that Donegal may go from being a Fianna Fáil stronghold to a Sinn Féin stronghold, a possibility enhanced by the increasing popularity of Sinn Féin both nationally and in the Ulster constituencies.