By-election to reveal how parties will fare nationally

THE outcome of the Donegal South West by-election is now redundant.

But the trends in voter habits and the volatility of the electorate will tell a lot about the possibilities for the upcoming general election.

It will have ramifications for all the major political parties as they trial their strategies before going to the rest of the country.

For Fianna Fáil the turnout, compared with the first preference tally for its candidate, Brian Ó Domhnaill, will indicate how deep resentment towards the party runs.

If its 2007 tally of 50.53% becomes anything like the 19% predicted in an opinion poll last week, it will prove even its conservative and traditional sanctuaries are up for grabs. A good showing will fuel the optimists in the parliamentary party.

Senator O’ Domhnaill is running the strongest campaign possible and argues he would be a force at the heart of Government and regardless of the crisis Fianna Fáil is the only group with a credible recovery plan.

The message from the senator is tantamount to asking the electorate to vote for somebody who can change the Government from the inside rather than the outside.

This will not wash in the general election because the government will be changing.

But Mr Ó Domhnaill said people still had a choice to make among local politicians who would either help the people of Donegal’s case or hinder it. This will be a major plank for outgoing Fianna Fáil backbenchers.

For Fine Gael the outing will be a test of its pro-business policies and attempt to channel the frustration of young middle-class voters.

Its candidate, Cllr Barry O’Neil, looks to be the party’s ideal runner in any area.

He hails from the tourism hub of Ballyshannon and drove the development of the Rory Gallagher festival in the town.

He works for RTÉ sport and presents the party’s message clearly.

“There hasn’t really been any opportunities presented for the young people and the business people in Donegal and that is happening all across the country,” he said.

On the hustings he and his party’s enterprise spokesman Richard Bruton were at pains to stress the view its entire platform was about job creation.

But so far this has failed to capture the anger of people. Instead he is battling for third place with Frank McBrearty, the Labour Party nominee.

Mr McBrearty led the breakthrough for the party in Donegal at the local elections and he claims he has picked up support from all parties.

He said using the national popularity of Labour leader Eamon Gilmore he could win votes from people who would never have considered voting for the party before.

So far the surprise for many people is that Donegal South West would be prepared to give a landslide victory to Sinn Féin.

It had a dismal 2007 nationally and looked set for political oblivion. Thursday’s vote could revive its national prospects. Senator Pearse Doherty recognised the approach of Sinn Féin was not up to scratch in previous elections.

“You cannot ask people just to vote against something, they have to vote for something,” he said.

The victor this week will not have an impact on the future of the Dáil but the direction voters choose will decide how parties face in the general election.

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