The final countdown is on for General Election 2016 and candidates across Donegal are fervently canvassing for support as the clock ticks.
The Donegal constituency has long been deemed ‘one to watch’ and with 16 candidates, eight of them independent, it’s all to play for as polling day approaches.
Sinn Fein’s Padraig MacLochlainn said he has “never seen” such strong support for his party.
He added there is “huge anger” at the government and a sense that “we have really been hammered here in Donegal.”
“We know how angry people are and there is a sense of despair in homes across the county and in families across the county,” he said.
Deputy MacLochlainn added that the main issues being raised on the doorsteps relate to property charges and cuts to public services, particularly health services, with the anger “palpable.”
Despite suggestions that Sinn Fein’s three-candidate strategy might have been a risky move for the party in Donegal, Deputy MacLochlainn said they are confident it was the right move. He added that the party want to be in government.
“Sinn Fein is trying to give people hope with our policies and we did extremely well the last time in Donegal. The support we have had is very solid.
He added: “ At the door I’ve heard a lot of people say: ‘I’m going to vote for you this time: ’ We can see how there are new voters and we want to and believe we can push it up as high as we can. Every home I’ve canvassed I have emphasised that my seat is not safe. I have also stressed how I and the party genuinely want to be in government. I do not want to be sitting opposite Enda Kenny and Joan Burton.
Deputy MacLochlainn said he believes the party can take at least 20 seats in this election and particularly in new constituencies.
He added that Sinn Fein wants to be a leading party in the coalition government, pointing out that for the first time in the history of the State, people have a “chance to have a government led by a new progressive party.”
He said: “In Donegal, we hope to have three Sinn Fein TDs. With Sinn Fein, we will have fairer taxation, property and water charges gone and stronger public services.
Recent polls have suggested that Fianna Fail’s Charlie McConalogue could acquire a strong vote, but he tells the ‘Journal’ he would “not agree with that at all.”
Deputy McConalogue said that while they have launched a strong campaign and got to “every single door in Inishowen,” it was going to be “a very, very tight campaign.”
He said: “We’ll be working exceptionally hard up until the last minute and we’re hoping we’ll get enough first preferences. I do think the polls are wrong. I think it’s going to be very tough competition. In the last election the polls were wrong and I pay no heed to them. They can be misleading and very unhelpful. While I’m hopeful we can do it, we’ve no doubt we’re in a tremendous battle. It’s going to take each and every one of those first preference votes to hold on to the seat.”
Deputy McConalogue said he too has found how people are “angry” and have had enough of a very unfair government.”
He said a “tremendous burden” had been placed on the people in relation to numerous charges and the erosion of public services. He said the government had created longer waiting lists and failed to show leadership in relation to class sizes, education funding and investment in broadband.
Deputy McConalogue said that Fianna Fail, while in opposition, had done their “very best” to raise the issues that mattered to the country. He said while it would be preferential to be in government following this election, the party would lead the opposition if that was the case,
He added that personally, he had worked “extremely hard” to represent the people of Donegal and as spokesperson for education. He said that at local level, he worked as a elected representative on individual issues on areas of importance and said Fianna Fail would like to see a “fairer” Ireland and one in which the recovery is spread, with “everyone” included in it.
Fine Gael Deputy Joe McHugh said this, his fifth election, was the “most challenging” he has ever been involved in, particularly due to the size of the new constituency.
He added that the electorate have responded “very positively” on the doorsteps and told how the party had undertaken a “big grass roots campaign” on the ground, with over 300 people canvassing.
He said he believes that people are now starting to decide who to vote for with many families “having that discussion around the table over the weekend.”
Minister McHugh said the “big conversation” he is having on the doorsteps relates to health and he is also receiving a lot of feedback on “the working person” and how they have been affected by taxes and cuts such as the Universal Social Charge, something he pledged to work on.
Deputy McHugh said Fine Gael was the party to back as they want to continue with what they started, adding the electorate brought them in to pick up the pieces when the whole country was at a low ebb.”
He said the strong message is that what they set out to do has been done and added that while the economy could be “better” they have achieved much of what they wanted to do.
In relation to polls and indications that Fine Gael might fight for a seat in Donegal, Deputy McHugh said it could “go any way,” adding that the “only poll that counts is on election day.”
He added he is “excited” about the election and is confident he has “done everything physically and humanly possible to get to this point.”
Deputy McHugh said that in relation to the party itself, what he has learned is that “experience is so important, in every aspect of life.”
He said: “”We have the experience of running a government in very, very difficult times and we will continue the work we have started in Donegal.”
There are eight independent candidates on the ticket for Donegal, one of whom is Tim Jackson.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ as he canvassed in nishowen yesterday, he said there was a “huge appetite for change.”
Mr Jackson said the big issues he is hearing about are water charges, roads, the health service and broadband.
He added that a lot of people feel “very disheartened” with how the county has been treated, with many feeling like we have been “left behind and forgotten.”
He said he believes the support for independent candidates is getting stronger as “more people realise that when you send a party politician to the Dail, that person is loyal to their party, their party leader and have to follow the party whip.”
He added: “I think we’re going to see a huge surge in Independent candidates being elected right across the country. We offer an independent voice and will represent the county for the good of it. We are not subject to the vested interests of a party.”
Mr Jackson said Donegal was “more isolated” due to its poor infrastructure and lack of investment in roads, which led to less job creation, something which “must be addressed.”
He added how he is “confident and hopeful” of election, adding that the support for independent candidates means “an upset is on the cards on way or another.”
“People seem to be ready for a change,” he said.
A total of 16 candidates are standing in the Donegal constituency. They are: Fine Gael: Joe McHugh, Paddy Harte; Fianna Fail: Charlie McConalogue, Pat the Cope Gallagher; Sinn Fein: Padraig MacLochlainn, Gary Doherty, Pearse Doherty; Green Party: Paula Flanagan; Independent: Tim Jackson, Niamh Kennedy, Frank McBrearty, Ian McGrvey, Michael Mooney, Cordelia NicFhearraigh, Thomas Pringle and Dessie Shiels.
Polling stations open at 7am on Friday.