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June 23rd 2004

The people have spoken

So the excitement is over – votes cast – the successful candidates on their way to Lifford or Brussels. Well done to them – and well done to the North West Radio team who brought the excitement and drama of the voting and tally centres into our living rooms. Mary Daly did a great job – especially on a marathon Sunday – Sean Perry excelled in reports and interviews – and Democrat man, Daniel Browne, took to the radio mic as if born to it.
Five of the six who got the top first preference votes, were elected – the vagaries of P.R. only kicked-in at the end of the day, in the climb of O’Neill from 9th, first count, with 888 votes, to take the fifth seat in the last with 1704 votes, thus getting elected at the expense of Paul Coughlan, who received 1166 votes, first count, but was eliminated in the last.
Well done to Ernan McGettigan - a truly heroic effort for an Independent – if Couglan had been eliminated before him - and it nearly happened - who knows - we might have had a second elected from Donegal Town.
But geographically, a fair spread of representatives over the 60 odd coastal miles from Bundoran to Glen – and a good mix, from veterans McEniff and Kennedy, to novices Byrne and O’Neill.
And what about the performance of Pringle in Donegal and Doherty in Europe and the Glenties Electoral Area. The people have obviously decided to take Sinn Fein at its word – to give its representatives a vote of trust. It’s now up to that party to show this is justified. Pringle and Doherty have come across as excellent advocates – young, hard-working, intelligent - with a clear and definitive vision for the future. In a country that is sick of scandal, sleaze, government mis-management, public order problems and ‘Big Brother’ intrusion – the advent of a new order is to be welcomed.
But the sight of the tricolour being wrapped around the newly elected Pringle was not the type of message many of the people who voted for him wanted to see. The tricolour is the flag of all Irish people, all political parties, all religions – it is not a party emblem - and for it to be symbolically hi-jacked to celebrate the victory of a Sinn Fein candidate suggested to many people in the Bosco Centre that nothing has changed, reinforced by the ritual chants of ‘thanaig ár lá’.
If Sinn Fein want full acceptance by the Irish people, it must take the final steps to convince the doubters that it has forever turned its back on violence and will accept the legitimate authority and policing of the two states the party straddles. Its members have proved in these elections that they can progress using only the ballot box – and the electorate seemingly accept this - but opinion will quickly change if the people find they have been duped.
Pringle and Doherty are the new young lions and can be a moderating and visionary influence on a party that has, in the past, been seen as extremist and lacking in foresight.
These election results are seen by many as a protest against a governing party that has forgotten where it came from. If Sinn Fein is to prove more than just a blip on the electoral radar, it must demonstrate its willingness to participate fully in the democratic process - a process that recognises the ballot paper - and rejects the concept of violence in any form.

The people have spoken – in South Donegal we have picked a mix of experience and youth to represent us in the Council – let those thus entrusted now get to work – there is a lot to be done.

Electoral ‘Musical Chairs’ played for high stakes - Coughlan loses out as O’Neill grabs last council seat

Sinn Fein supporters wrap the Tricolour around the shoulders of Thomas Pringle after he was announced elected on the first count. Included in photo are Declan Heraghty, Paul Gallagher, Eamon Monaghan, Jim Boyle, and Tom Dignam

by Margaret Gallagher

“Last out, close the gate’ must have been the message left behind by the good people from Bruckless to Glencolmcille on Sunday morning as supporters from that area flocked to the Bosco Centre in Donegal Town to back their respective candidates in the count. And they did not go home disappointed, with three of the six seats heading west. The first cavalcade left the Bosco Centre around 5pm led by the only candidate to exceed the quota, Killybegs man, Thomas Pringle. Two more departed at 12.30am carrying Bruckless man John Boyle and the ‘Dark Horse’ from Carrick, Brendan Byrne. As one man put it “that area has not all its eggs in one basket – three candidates from three towns representing three parties”.
At the same time local councillor Peter Kennedy’s troops got ready to wake up Donegal Town, led by the three SUVs bearing his name. The veteran Sean McEniff lined up for Bundoran, with newcomer Barry O’Neill, Ballyshannon, close on his heels.
This was celebration time for those successful, but much had gone on in an eventful day, before the victors could crow their delight. From early morning, the atmosphere in the count centre was emotionally charged, with pundits from all the parties calculating the permutations and combinations that could bring success to their protegees as the day progressed. The only thing on which all agreed was that Pringle and McEniff were safe - after that it was all to play for.
By noon, tension was building - tally results being dissected and analysed by nervous candidates and supporters. As the drama unfolded in the crowded count centre, the candidates huddled at separate tables with their advisors, seeking comfort from any encouraging crumbs of information emanating from the statisticians working the figures - the centre of attention in each party’s encampment.
John Durcan, Jackie Gallagher and catering staff, did a great job in providing the caffine to keep the cognoscenti awake for the long day ahead.

It was 5pm before the announcement of the first count. Pringle topped, 300 votes over quota, followed by McEniff on 1,864 - and the rest down the field.
Pringle’s surplus was distributed - nobody else reached the quota. There followed the elimination of Gallagher, Gillespie and Doherty - in that order, the last enabling McEniff to reach the magic figure with a surplus of 47 votes.
The pundits were now analysing the vote distribution of Bundoran lady, Florence Doherty, to determine a possible trend to future transfers. 40% of Doherty’s transfers had gone to Bundoran/Ballyshannon candidates, igniting a suspicion that O’Neill could come into the picture, to top either Byrne or Coughlan.
This took us to the sixth count. Now 8.30pm, the picture was slowly evolving. The elimination of the first high profile candidate, former GAA star, Joyce McMullin, materialised, leading to the distribution of his 900 votes. These mainly went to Boyle, McGettigan and Kennedy. Suprisingly, and later to be crucial, O’Neill of Ballyshannon received 156 of these transfers.
The next count saw Fianna Fail man, Grimes, of the Erne Town eliminated and O’Neill again received the bulk of the transfers from his neighbour.
At this stage, the portion of Florence Doherty’s surplus left in McEniff’s pigeonhole were distributed - a total of 47 votes, of which O’Neill took 15.
Things now stood - Pringle and McEniff elected, Boyle leading Byrne by 100 votes, followed by O’Neill, who had risen so dramatically, on 1,566 - then Kennedy and Coughlan trailing O’Neill by 30 and 120 respectively.
The stress was palpable among the remaining candidates and their supporters - McGettigan, who was then eliminated, had 1,400 votes to be distributed. Opinion among the party gurus varied widely. Declan McHugh pronounced that local men Coughlan and Kennedy would now pass out Ballyshannon man, O’Neill. Brian Gallagher was fearful that Brendan Byrne would be the one to be overtaken by all three of the candidates below him - but Dessie Mulhern of Bundoran, a member of the McEniff camp, was adamant that the trend was towards O’Neill - and Coughlan would lose out.
With the clock moving towards the midnight hour, candidates and followers paced the floor, seeking comfort from whoever would give them a positive prediction. Minister Mary had a worried look, but campaign advisor, Cathal Campbell, was reassuring - Coughlan, Byrne and Kennedy would all get through - giving Fianna Fail four seats. But this was only one opinion - widely differing estimates were circulating as to what number of McGettigan’s 1,400 would be received by each candidate. The prevailing wisdom, to the consternation of the Coughlan camp, had Paul in trouble. They didn’t want to believe it!
The tension was now well up the Richter scale - media on the prowl, NWR reporters, Perry and Browne, giving a platform to whoever had a point of view and seeking controversy wherever it was to be found.
At 12.30am, returning officer, Gerry Gilroy, took to the stage to announce the final count. In sombre tones, in keeping with the seriousness of the situation, he listed the election candidates in the order they appeared on the ballot paper. Dramatically, O’Neill’s vote was the last to be announced and it conveyed that he had pipped Coughlan for the final seat. A Fine Gael roar, equal to that of Sinn Fein earlier in the evening, went up and O’Neill was hoisted shoulder-high by jubilant supporters.
So, after a long long day, we finally had a team to represent us on Donegal County Council - Pringle, McEniff, Byrne, Boyle, Kennedy and O’Neill.
Speeches of victory from the winners and ‘We’ll be back’ from the vanquished - the people had spoken - long live democracy!

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

Tel: +353-74-9722860 Fax: +353-74-9722937