Sean Wins Communications Award
Sean Dunnion Jnr. receives his Communication Award from the Chairman of the County Board, Danny Harkin, watched by Tourism Minister Jim McDaid.
The Donegal G.A.A. County Board Annual Awards Banquet was held in the Abbey Hotel on Saturday night last to honour people past and present in the county and in the U.S.A., who have made a major contribution to the playing, administration and development of the Association.
Local interest on the night centered on Public Relations Officer of the Four Masters G.A.A. Club, Sean Dunnion, who was honoured with the Communications Award for 2001. Sean has been P.R.O. of the club for the past two years and Club Person of the Year 2000. He has been instrumental in setting up the clubs magnificent new website as well as the publication of a commemorative booklet for the Millennium Banquet. He was kept very busy last year with local press and radio during one of the most successful years ever for the Four Masters club. A worthy winner of the Communications award.
I Love My County
In an exclusive interview with Donegal Times, Pat the Cope Gallagher briefed the paper on a range of subjects. Our reporter Margaret Gallagher started by asking the European M.P. why, after 20 years, he was back to contest an election in South Donegal.
Pat: Three months ago I had discussions with the Taoiseach about how we could retrieve the second seat lost to Thomas Gildea at the last election. After a number of meetings I decided I would contest the convention. I felt I would be in a strong position having worked as a Councillor, T.D., and a Minister of State. I have worked the constituency over the years as a T.D. and I continued to work it as an MEP. I have good contacts and, if selected, I will work with the organisation and secure the 5% swing which is required for Fianna Fail to secure the seat. I am not taking anything for granted - I wont leave any stone unturned. I will fight this election as we fought the 1981 election, and hopefully we will get a satisfactory result.
D.T.: Do you feel that F.F. and F.G. are in a panic over Gildeas seat?
Pat: I have to say there are no great pressures on me from F.F. headquarters. Its not a panic measure. We are being totally realistic - we are looking for the strongest team for Fianna Fail to win the two seats. As for Fine Gael, I dont really know what their objective is. As far as we are concerned - with an extra 5% we can secure the seat. The election, I suggest, will be at the end of April or the beginning of May. This gives a reasonable lead-in time and I think it will go well for us.
D.T.: Would you subscribe to the view that Fianna Fail have a God given right to two seats in South West Donegal?
Pat: Not at all - no divine right - this is a matter for the electorate. Having had those two seats for very many years, there is a perception that we have taken them for granted. I dont think this is true, but, of course, it is a very sharp reminder to the parties, not just here in South West Donegal, but throughout the country that we must be able to deliver, I think, in fairness, the last time it was an unusual set of circumstances, there was a single issue that effected almost every household in the constituency and that resulted in the election of an Independent.
D.T.: Ten years ago yourself, Jim White, Mary Coughlan, Seamus Rodgers, Dinny McGinley, all were candidates. All of you are back in 2002. What does this tell you about politics?
Pat: It is possibly coincidental. Back twenty years ago, in 1981, both myself and Jim White were candidates with Dinny McGinley, Clement Coughlan and Paddy Kelly. All of us are still here, apart from the late Clement, whose untimely death in 83 was very tragic. I have dedicated my whole life to politics since my election to Council in 79. I would like to think I have good relations with my constituents and this has helped me to build up the party vote and a personal vote.
D.T.: Are Fine Gael and Fianna Fail pulling out two aces in the Donegal constituency The Cope and White?
Pat: Well, there is a slight difference, I have never been away, a lot of people say I am still recognised as a public representative and the public are not interested if you are a councillor, an MEP, a T.D. They are only concerned about ensuring that you can serve in assisting them and their areas. I continued to give good service through my full-time constituency office in Dungloe with two people permanently there, also personnel in Dublin and Brussels. Where ever I am, my mobile number is available to everyone - Im only a phone call away.
D.T.: Yourself and Enda Bonner are neighbours. Enda lost the seat to an Independent. On Questions and Answers it was mentioned you got less votes than Enda Bonner in the first election contested by you both?
Pat: First, this is not relevant on a national level - just to the constituency. The figures are not right. I secured in the region of 6,500 votes, Enda got an excellent vote, 5,700. I have known Enda all my life - we are good friends. I went to college in Galway with him. Coming home was a big decision for me to take by fact that Enda has served the constituency well as a Senator for the last five years.
D.T.: Why do you think Enda fell down in the last election - why did he lose the votes?
Pat: I believe Enda did exceptionally well, it was the single issue of MMDS that caught the imagination of everybody. It was the box in the corner of every house, everyones concern. I realised before the election it was a very serious issue. Both Mary Coughlan and myself did our very best to convince the Ministers and Government at the time. I doubt very much that they foresaw the repercussions. This was described once as one of the most boring constituencies in the country - it is in sharp contrast at the moment. Donegal South-West will be the most exciting and I am looking forward to playing a central role.
D.T.: Is that why you are back?
Pat: It may well be! As I said earlier, Im back for a number of reasons. Being a Donegal man I think the whole world revolves around us and of course I love my county.
D.T.: It has being said you are the best MEP Connaught/Ulster ever had. Have you more to achieve?
Pat: As for achievements - I went to Europe in 94. I realised at that time that Europe was becoming more important as far as the west of the country and the border counties were concerned. I had great fears that come 99 the whole country could be treated as one unit and that there would not be regionalisation. If that happened, the west would be the loser - that was very much my election manifesto. I said I was going to secure Objective 1 Status and we did secure that. There was only one party in the country that favoured the regionalisation of Ireland in the best interest of the west and north west, and that was Fianna Fail. Also you must realise the important part Europe plays in our fisheries and Donegal, of course, is highly dependent on that industry. Hopefully, when the common fisheries policy is reviewed later this year, we may reverse the imbalance that has been there for a considerable time.
D.T.: Yourself and Mary Coughlan seem to work well together, is that assumption correct?
Pat: This goes back further than Mary Coughlan. It is back to 79 when I was elected to the Council. I built up a very good relationship with Clement Coughlan and supported him in the by-election of 1980 and I would have directed the election in my own area at that time. When Mary was elected, I considered we had a good political relationship, Coughlan/Cope, which I have no doubt will continue. We will fight for every last vote. Once the election is over, we will continue to work closely together in the best interest of the county and constituency.
D.T.: Is there a chance you are being lined up as our next E.C. Commissioner?
Pat: This is the first time I have been posed that question and I have done many interviews. This is not a bridge to go back to Europe - I will be totally committed to Donegal to South West Donegal. There will be no return to Europe for me after 2004, let it be as Commissioner or MEP - I am home to stay.
D.T.: Does South Donegal play a role in your development plans?
Pat: Of course it does, South Donegal is important to me. It is part of the constituency. I may not be seen as often in South Donegal as a T.D. because of the geographic divide. Mary will work the Donegal electoral area, I will work the Glenties electoral area, and both of us will work the Finn Valley. But anything that is good for South Donegal - let it be the various sewage schemes around Donegal Bay, industry, national primary roads, national secondary roads - I will always be there in my capacity as a T.D. to assist generally or assist individuals.
D.T.: You have spoken about the fisheries which I know you have looked after well, the other industry important to Donegal is tourism - what is your input?
Pat: We are fortunate to have our Tourism Minister in Donegal. James McDaid doesnt differentiate between any part of the county. As minister he has responsibilities to the whole county and the entire country - a difficult job. If I am elected I will work closely with all sectors of the tourism industry and will listen closely and be available to meet with them because they are more expert than I am. I am very much a general practitioner - they are the specialists. I would like to be their eyes and ears back in Dail Eireann. Donegal is a beautiful county - the only problem for us is our location. We didnt have the same chance to develop because of the 30 years troubles. It was a big impediment to progress here. Having said that, those in the tourism industry in Donegal always had faith and reinvested in it. I believe that marketing is very important. We have to market more. We must have the right product and we must try to sell the county even more so in the shoulder period. As well, we must make more use of Sligo Airport which is important to South Donegal and Carrickfinn to West Donegal and South Donegal. All in all, I would be available to work closely with the industry and take their views on board.
D.T.: Do you feel that more could be done to market west Donegal? You have the McEniffs, The White Group promoting South Donegal. From Mountcharles to Dungloe where is the voice?
Pat: Carrickfinn is going extremely well, I use it regularly and am looking forward to a second flight through time, Im told by those in the industry that a big impediment is our infrastructure. The traditional route to West Donegal is over Binbane into Kilraine and Glenties - that route has to be a priority with us. That road is a regional road, I am not happy with the funding that has been provided for it. We have to now return to Government and make sure that substantial funds are provided that will attract coach drivers and coach owners who are not particularly anxious to travel further north than Donegal Town.
The big attraction in West Donegal is the one and only Daniel ODonnell and if it was not for him, the tourism industry in West Donegal would be a lot poorer. Glenveagh National Park is another attraction, but people will travel via Letterkenny. So not only have we to secure funding for Frosses/Glenties which by the way is not the N56 it is a regional road, but also Dunkineely/Ardara and the remainder of the N56.
D.T.: Pa ODonnell was the first Donegal Minister - would you hope to follow in his footsteps?
PAT: Pa ODonnell was a Burtonport man who had a legal practice in Dungloe and by a strange coincidence, while I live in Dungloe, I was born in Burtonport as well. My mother was born there. I remember Pa ODonnell was elected in a famous by-election in 1949. In the coalition government of 1954, Pa ODonnell was made Minister for Local Government and my recollection is of his return to Dungloe to the constituency and on to Burtonport. I can still see him on the steps of Sweeneys Hotel, Dungloe from which he addressed the multitudes on that night.
D.T.: Will you be on the steps of Sweeneys hotel?
Pat: Well, I dont know anyone who goes into Dail Eireann and suggests they dont want to be a Minister. Certainly if I was called upon by the Taoiseach, then I would be delighted to serve my country.
D.T.: Would you forfeit an E.C. Commissioners seat to take a cabinet seat?
PAT: It would not be an issue, I have committed myself to Donegal and I certainly wont be going back to Europe. As for a cabinet seat - first of all, I have to be selected, and then elected. Then, if I was invited to become a member of cabinet, certainly I would respond positively.
D.T.: Paddy the Cope was your grandfather, do you think F.F. is the same party as in his time or has it all changed?
PAT: My grandfather was a close friend of De Valera - it was much more exciting in those times. You knew the politics of all families - totally entrenched in their views - you could almost count the votes coming out of the ballot boxes of each booth. That has all changed - nobody can be taken for granted, now - the fact that traditionally families are F.F. - that doesnt mean the children are F.F. If Paddy the Cope came back now to see the transformation that has taken place here in Donegal - the quality of our housing over the last number of years, the drastic reduction in the rate of unemployment and, the biggest change, so few people emigrating. In those days of big families, the eldest had to emigrate and send back money to help rear the rest of the children. Now nothing like that is happening, people who emigrate from Donegal now is by choice rather than necessity. Having said all that, the Paddy the Copes in those days created employment with no state aid - there were no grants available. I am proud that Paddy the Cope had electricity in Dungloe long before rural electrification in any part of the country. He was a creative man he harnessed the river running into the bay and produced electricity for the town, had a bakery, a knitting factory and a mill in those days, also a number of fishing boats, the general stores in Dungloe with six others around the Rosses and, of course, the fishing boats and hotel in Killybegs. Some of the wise old politicians in F.F. have said to me jokingly how fortunate I am - that I wouldnt have been heard of if it wasnt for Paddy the Cope. I dont deny this and am proud of this heritage.
D.T.: If successful in the convention, do you feel on the door to door campaign people are going to bring up the tribunals and wrong doings in the party. Will you have to defend your party?
PAT: F.F. are responsible for the establishment of the tribunals and I support this. Truth has to come out. Unfortunately the cost is high as tribunals are going on a considerable time. In the future, tribunals should be given a limited time or make better use of the Dail Committees. These cost less than the tribunals, but the truth has to come out and those who have broken the law must be subjected to the law. Of course the tribunals will not decide this, but if they make recommendations and if the recommendations are that certain people have to be pursued - there should be no hiding places in F.F. or any other party for the like of that.
D.T.: What will be your personal manifesto if elected?
PAT: As of now my priority is to secure a selection at convention. My manifesto will have to dovetail with the manifesto of the party. I will have to ensure that my strong views for Donegal would have to be included. It is straight forward - infrastructure has to be a major part and our roads and sewage schemes. Both national government and Europe will be making a major contribution to the sewage schemes in this area and think of Donegal Bay from Bundoran to Ballyshannon to Rossnowlagh to Donegal Town and Killybegs - massive money will be spent there which will include state of the art treatment plants. I want to ensure N56 roads reconstruction mentioned earlier and that IDA, Udras Na Gaeltacha and others attract industries into this area. We must ensure there is broadband technology right up the West Coast, not just along the national primary route, which is not good enough for me, spurs will have to go into each and every village in Donegal to give the opportunity to those in the most peripheral areas to take advantage of the age of technology because many jobs can be created in the most remote parts of South and West Donegal if we have this technology. All this is happening and I expect a major announcement from Mary ORourke in relation to this broadband technology within a matter of weeks. I will be most anxious that all of Donegal will be included in that. The health factor will be a major one and it is important to remind ourselves that in 97 when we went into government, the health budget was 2.5 billion pounds. That was doubled up to last year and has been increased again this year. Certainly there are long waiting lists and we must address that and hopefully over the next five years we will be able to do that.
D.T.: How do you intend to conduct your campaign with you in Brussels every week?
PAT: I use modern technology to the full, I use email, fax, phone I couldnt have too many phones, my phone number is available to everyone. If I am in Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Dublin or any part - for me no problem is too great, no detail too small, whether it is someone who has a reduction of one euro in their pension - to that individual it is a major problem, I treat that as importantly as I would treat some major development.
D.T.: How does Ann, your wife feel about you going back?
PAT: I tell her I will be at home more but she doesnt really believe me, because when I went to Europe I told her I would be free every weekend and that she would see more of me. She believed that at the time and looked forward to it. So now she is more sceptical, she knows my whole life is politics and whatever I want to do she will support me to the full, as my mother did prior to her death in 94. I have no difficulty with that. I am a constituency worker and it is only possible to cover that provided you are willing to work all the hours that God sends. I am fortunate to have a wife who is from West Donegal. She is a great asset and will work with me in my campaign.
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