Continuing our series of interviews with the candidates for Mays general election, our reporter Margaret Gallagher caught up with Co. Councillor Thomas Pringle, who is running as an Independent candidate.
Killybegs based Pringle aged 34 is married to Caroline Brogan (Donegal Town). They have three children, Blaithin 5 years, Ultan 4 years and Siobhra 2 years. He was elected to the Council in 1999 and also serves on the following Committees: Fisheries Committee; Rural Water Monitoring Committee; Border Regional Authority and the V.E.C.
D.T.: As an Independent what are your main political philosophies and objectives?
Thomas: I would believe the ordinary working person needs representation and I feel that the main parties are not representing them or their needs fully. There are a number of issues that I will be focusing on and would like to see resolved. I am pushing for broad-band communications to be extended into the west and south-west of the county to allow small rural communities access to telework. I have spoken quite a lot on this at Council level. I also feel strongly about the extension of natural gas through Sligo, Bundoran, Ballyshannon, and Donegal Town. The County Council has prioritised the Donegal Town/Ballyshannon corridor as an economic development area and a target for inward investment. The infrastructure that is required for that would need to be in place. Its a chicken and egg situation where the industry will not come without the infrastructure and the Government is not supplying it - you have to have one to get the other.
D.T.: Will you be concentrating on Killybegs and surrounding areas, leaving the rest of the constituency to the other candidates?
Thomas: No I will be covering the full constituency.
D.T.: You were elected to the council by winning the last seat in this area two and a half years ago. Do you think that is a sufficient platform for a run at the Dail?
Thomas: Yes, I think there is a need for a strong Independent candidate to represent the constituency. I believe that F.F. and F.G. have not served this area to the extent they should have. Up to 1997 Donegal south-west was the safest, most predictable constituency. The way party politics work - if a constituency is safe it doesnt need attention.
D.T.: When Gildea won his seat in the last election was that what the constituency needed? Is that what opened the gate for others like yourself?
Thomas: This showed that Donegal south-west could no longer be taken for granted. Once a constituency like this becomes marginal it does provide opportunities for people like myself. It also shows that people are prepared to look for and get the attention they deserve regardless of politics. Political parties can not take the electorate for granted, they must focus attention on them and their area.
D.T.: Killybegs is hugely important economically to South Donegal but surely the major movers there would be tied to the major parties to ensure further development?
Thomas: The major movers, as you call them, have their own political allegiance but there are 2,800 people living in Killybegs and they all need political representation.
Thomas: I dont think so. If I can rightly remember - back in 1970 it was the F.F. government that sold out the fishing industry to secure the agricultural sector and just prior to Christmas negotiations on the quotas were dressed up to be a success but as far as the fishermen are concerned it hasnt been much of a success. Killybegs is working from a narrow base and I dont think any politician can say they have done a lot to broaden or develop that.
D.T.: Maybe you have a strategy to ally yourself with Thomas Gildea, Seamus Rodgers and Pearse Doherty in a transfer pact, or would that be even feasible?
Thomas: I dont think its a formula - but I do think transfers should go between the smaller parties and the Independents, before going back to the larger parties. I will be looking for the highest preference I can get. Wherever I am canvassing I will ask people to consider giving me a preference somewhere along the line and hopefully I can make a stand at the first count and after that the transfers will be very important.
D.T.: It has been said that your interest in environmental issues will secure the green vote which went to Dr. Cullen in the last election.
Thomas: Environmentally speaking, I would be one of the more green speakers in the council in this county. I had a major influence on getting incineration removed as an option of the County Waste Management Plan and also I spoke strongly on the purifying of the water supplies.
D.T.: It is evident that you are a young radical by Donegal standards but your base is Killybegs, a town with pro-rata more millionaires than any town in Europe, isnt that a paradox?
Thomas: In a sense Killybegs has suffered over the years from the presumption that if you are from that town you have loads of money. But there are a lot of people there existing day-to-day, depending on part-time work in the fish factories and its their lot that has to be improved and helped along. If we allow the fishing industry and value-added products to develop, this will have a knock-on effect providing more long term employment in the area.
D.T.: It must be a daunting prospect for an Independent, with, I presume, rather small resources, to take on the well financed large parties?
Thomas: I have a group of committed workers who backed me on the local election campaign and this group has expanded over the past two years. They are willing to work hard and hopefully we will be able to take on the larger parties and beat them.
D.T.: Has your time on the Council increased your appetite for politics?
Thomas: I think I was aware how much work is required at County Council level, it is a very big commitment and holding down a day job makes it more difficult. I think County Council level is very important to peoples daily lives and can achieve quite a lot in improving infrastructure by prioritising and improving funding. I think Donegal needs a voice at national level to change things and that will have a knock-on effect down to local level. As a public representative, even though I am a county councillor, I make a lot of representations on national issues e.g. to Department of Health, Social Welfare - I see there is a need for changes nationally which would benefit locally here in Donegal.
D.T.: We have a Senior Minister and a Junior Minister in this County - do you think they are doing enough?
Thomas: We have a minister in the north-east of the county and I think it can clearly be seen that the funding he has achieved has been directed to the north-east. Really the party system doesnt lend itself towards pushing the benefits towards a constituency like Donegal south-west. It is one of my main complaints, particularly over the last number of years - the party comes before everything else. The party is the main issue and the people come second. As an Independent I will be focusing on the people and I will be answerable to the people - no party involved. It will be them who will decide if I am good enough for the job.
D.T.: You are a young man - are you in for the long haul?
Thomas: I intend to be there for the long haul and after polling day, if the people of the South West have decided I can work for them by electing me, I will be there for as long as they wish me to be.
D.T.: Will your daytime job be a problem during the election campaign?
Thomas: There will be people out during the day on my behalf. I found from the local elections - if you want to talk to people on the door steps, evening is the best time to get them.
D.T.: Mary Coughlan lives close by, do you feel you will be tramping on her toes?
Thomas: It will be no harm to tramp on her toes.
D.T.: We have talked about the fishing - what about the farming community and tourism industry?
Thomas: I think the farming community have their problems. There are still a lot of issues to be resolved on their behalf. If the restrictions on slurry etc. are going to be implemented some funding and grant aid will have to be forthcoming to help them deal with these situations. Personally I think the farming community is important, they are our tradition and our culture. As for tourism - Donegal as a county will have to be better marketed.
D.T.: The young vote is an important one and both main parties are going all out to capture it - as is Sinn Fein. What are your views?
Thomas: I wonder how much of the young vote the main parties really have. One of the big problems is that the young people are so disillusioned they probably wont vote at all. I think by giving them the opportunity to vote for an Independent will encourage them. One of the most important rights that any adult has is the right to vote. I think that the electorate doesnt understand that their own individual vote can be very important at the end of the day. They can bring about change by using that vote.
D.T.: Do you think that both the main parties are concerned? Do they see Independents like yourself as a threat, is that why the Cope and White are back?
Thomas: Its interesting to look at the political parties. Their biggest enemy is usually within the party. This constituency always had 2 FF and 1 FG. At the moment there is one of each, so FF think they have to regain that seat.
D.T.: Will your wife Caroline be out canvassing?
Thomas: Yes, of course, Caroline is my most loyal supporter and she has a good rapport with people - but with three young children her time is limited.
One of the first jobs our long promised town manager should tackle is a total revamp of the Diamond. Since the day it was created the harsh lines, empty spaces and cold look of this centrepiece has been subject of much controversy. Even those who argued for a pedestrianised area were disappointed with the end result. Something has to be done to give it a softer, more user-friendly feel. For a start, at least four of the trees, dead since the day they were planted, need to be replaced. Additional and more attractive seating is needed. A complete camouflage and make-over of the ESB transformer was promised but never took place - so there it sits obtrusive and ugly. A complete cosmetic overhaul of our town centre is essential.
And mentioning the town manager - it is to be hoped the Chamber is not taking a short-term approach - if people are signing mandates for different periods, it is going to create a nightmare scenario in the coming years. Renewals will become due at different times, causing all sorts of problems to future committees. Only long term secure financing is suitable for this type of far reaching commitment.
Also let us also hope that every business, from biggest to smallest, has been approached to sign - not just the usual suspects. Its too easy to target the obvious front line operations - but there are firms operating on first floors, second floors, on side streets and down gateways.
So every entity, including doctors, accountants, solicitors, taxi men, radio station, newspapers, I.T. companies, designers, craft workers, industry, service operators, hotels, guest houses, retail, garages, bars wholesalers and anybody else operating a business in town, should pay. In that way there will be no repercussions in the future as to who did or didnt bankroll what should turn out to be one of the most important initiatives ever undertaken by our community leaders.
And to maximise the impact of the proposed new executive set-up - the town needs everybody to pull together. This is a time to look forward - for all factions to re-group. The hand of peace should be extended to those whose ideas and policies in the past saw them marginalised. Everybody has a role to play in the building of Donegal Town for the future and this will not be achieved by recriminations and the flaunting of past perceived wrongs. There is a lot of under-used talent out there in our community - harness it and utilise it to construct a new future for the people of Donegal, their children and grandchildren.