PAMELA DUNCAN in Letterkenny
Irish Times
2 June 2012

DONEGAL: LUNCH HAD just been served up to the count staff in the Bonagee Sports Hall in Letterkenny when returning officer for Donegal North-East Geraldine O’Connor made the announcement that the country’s most northern constituency had voted No.

In the end it was 55.63 per cent against, 44.37 per cent for the treaty. The result came within a half hour of the announcement that Donegal South-West had also returned a No vote, with 54.95 per cent voting against the treaty versus 45.05 per cent voting Yes.

Sinn Féin’s spokesman on finance, Pearse Doherty, said the two Donegal No votes were “not surprising given the fact that austerity budgets of this Government and previous governments have impacted on Donegal more so than any other county”.

He pointed to high unemployment, high emigration and fears for local services and rural schools as some of the issues which had led the people of Donegal to vote No.

“This isn’t any huge victory for the Government. Hundreds of thousands of people came out against the treaty because the austerity that underpins this treaty has failed and will continue to fail,” he said. “There needs to be a new direction taken by this Government if we are to provide the future that the people of Ireland deserve.”

Mr Doherty said that while the treaty debate was now over, the debate about how best to reach economic stability was very much ongoing, adding that, in the wake of a Yes vote, Sinn Féin would be holding the Government to the promises it had made about stability, jobs and investment.

The Donegal No vote was described by Independent TD for Donegal South-West Thomas Pringle as the county’s voters standing up to the Government’s fear tactics.

“I think Donegal has been the most marginalised part of the country for many years and think Donegal people have decided they’re not going to be frightened anymore,” Mr Pringle said.

“Nationally it’s a victory for fear. The Government set out to frighten people throughout this campaign and they’ve succeeded.”

He said his High Court action – in which he is challenging the constitutionality of the establishment of the ESM and the amendment of article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – would be heard later this month.

“The issues of concern for me are now before the courts and the Irish courts will adjudicate on them,” he said.

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Sinn Féin TD for Donegal North-East, said there was a “deliberate fear factor” contained in the Government’s campaign and that many people, both in Donegal and nationally, had voted Yes “with a heavy heart”.

“The Government need to be very worried as many people voted Yes with a heavy heart and and if they don’t see a turnaround in the near future the Government are going to see a heavy political hit,” he said.

Fine Gael TD for Donegal North-East Joe McHugh said that, while Donegal had registered a No overall, locally the party had taken heart that the vote was closer than it had been in the first Lisbon referendum.

“We pulled out all the stops this time in Donegal North-East … we really really drove it hard. The Lisbon I referendum was 65/35 [against], so – if you look to the margins – we can take solace that the margins have narrowed significantly this time around.”

“I am delighted that it passed nationally because it was important from both a national and local perspective,” he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue said the Donegal vote was reflective of the fact that the county was unhappy with its current employment and financial position.

“It’s not specifically related to what’s contained in the treaty, but it’s a reaction to the fact that the county is suffering economically,” he said.

However, he said that a Yes vote nationally was in the best interests of both the country and Donegal.

“A Yes vote now enables the country to focus on the real issues in Europe,” he said, adding that the Government now needed to secure a write-down on Ireland’s banking debt.

“My view is that the Government have been far too weak in this area in the past and they now have to step up to the plate … and get the deal that’s due to us on that.”