A relieved Joe McHugh was returned to the Dail at the weekend, following a tense battle for two Fine Gael seats at the count centre on Saturday night.
It was midnight before the Milford man, who topped the poll when he was elected to the Dáil in 2007, was officially returned to his second term as a TD in the constituency.
Though Deputy McHugh had been expected to hold on to his North East seat, he admitted he was very relieved to hear he was elected.
“I’m delighted we have finally got here. It was difficult task, but we set out with a two candidate strategy.
“Genuinely as an organisation we tried to get the two seats, but in order for that to work one candidate had to poll better than the other as we could have been looking at a situation where we would have been left in limbo so the fact that one candidate goes ahead, obviously puts them in a better position. But John put in a fabulous canvas, and he came very close.”
McHugh believes his running mate, John Ryan, came incredibly close to securing the third seat, but blamed geography as the main reason the Inishowen man didn’t poll well in the transfers.
“John spent most of the day getting very few transfers because of geography, he did well out of Betty Holmes because of her base in Newtown but it was too crowded a field in Letterkenny and Jimmy Harte got more transfers which meant he eventually passed out John, but if he hadn’t passed John it would have been a different story.”
Although McHugh concentrated on the Letterkenny and Milford electoral areas, while his running partner, John Ryan, canvassed around Inishowen, the Fine Gael Deputy believes the peninsula, where he polled more than 1,500 votes, was a vital area in his campaign.
“Our campaign was set out so John, being from Burnfoot, canvassed around Inishowen and I concentrated on Letterkenny. I was a TD down there for three years and did work there, so I followed the party’s wishes, as they felt there was a second seat for the taking.
But I still pulled in a lot of votes in Inishowen and I feel it was vital in pulling me over the line. I’m very grateful for the support.”
Deputy McHugh said overall he was delighted with the level of support the party got in Donegal and is looking forward to a future of Fine Gael in power.
“It has been a very positive for the party, we received over 31% of the overall vote which places Fine Gael as the largest party in Donegal North East. That is quite significant for a party that was always in the minority.
But this time round for me this will be a different ball game. I’m in politics for 12 years, and in opposition politics for 12 years, but I’m relishing the challenge of getting into power and seeing if we can do something different.
“The electorate demanded change and now they’ve got it so I hope to be contributing to that and hopefully make a difference in Donegal.”