2010 Donegal South-West by-election

A by-election was held in the Dáil Éireann Donegal South-West constituency in Ireland on Thursday 25 November 2010, following the election of Fianna Fáil TD Pat "the Cope" Gallagher to the European Parliament at the June 2009 election. Most voters cast their ballots on 25 November 2010;[1][2] 754 voters on offshore islands (Arranmore, Tory, Inishbofin, Gola, and Inishfree) were entitled to cast their ballots on 22 November.[3]

2010 Donegal South-West by-election

 2007 general election 25 November 2010 2011 general election 
Turnout34,424 (57.4%)
Nominee Pearse Doherty Barry O'Neill Brian Ó Domhnaill
Party Sinn Féin Fine Gael Fianna Fáil
First preferences 13,719 6,424 7,344
Percentage 39.85 18.66 21.33
Final count 16,897 8,182 8,069

Nominee Thomas Pringle Frank McBrearty Jnr Anne Sweeney
Party Independent Labour Independent
First preferences 3,438 3,366 133
Percentage 9.99 9.78 0.39
Final count

Donegal South-West shown within Ireland

TD before election

Pat "the Cope" Gallagher
Fianna Fáil

Elected TD

Pearse Doherty
Sinn Féin

The government through a vote in Dáil Éireann decides when by-elections for seats in the lower house are called. Possessing a small majority in the Dáil, the government had delayed in calling this by-election. While there is no specific legal requirement on when to hold a by-election in Ireland, they are generally held within six months of a vacancy occurring.[4] The 17-month gap between the seat becoming vacant and the writ being moved is the longest in the history of the state.[5]

Sinn Féin senator Pearse Doherty was elected on the fourth count.[6]

Legal challenge

Due to the delay in the Government holding the by-election, a number of attempts to force the by-election were carried out by the Opposition. On 4 May 2010, Sinn Féin attempted to force the holding of the by-election.[7] The next day, the Government narrowly avoided a defeat in the motion calling for the by-election to be held immediately when two of their TDs accidentally voted with the opposition.[8]

On 12 July 2010, the High Court granted leave to Sinn Féin senator Pearse Doherty for a judicial review into why the by-election was not being held.[9] On 2 November 2010, the High Court ruled that there was an unreasonable delay in holding the by-election. In his ruling, High Court President Justice Nicholas Kearns described the delay as unprecedented[10] and that the delay amounted to a breach of Doherty's constitutional rights. He declared that Section 30 (2) of the Electoral Act 1992 should be construed as requiring that a writ for a by-election be moved within a reasonable time of the vacancy arising.[5] He further stated that:

...it is the ongoing failure to move the writ for this by-election since June 2009 which offends the terms and spirit of the Constitution and its framework for democratic representation.[11]

However, Justice Kearns did not order the Government to set a date for the by-election. The Government announced on 4 November 2010 that the by-election would be held on 25 November. They also stated that they would appeal to the Supreme Court.[10]


The election campaign took place during an unprecedented crisis in state finances:

An opinion poll in the week prior to polling gave Pearse Doherty 40% of the first preference vote, with Fianna Fáil's Brian O'Domhnaill with 19%.[17]

On 22 November, Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced his intention to call a general election in early 2011, once the budget had been passed.[18] Candidate Anne Sweeney unofficially withdrew on 23 November and advised voters to boycott the by-election, describing it as "a complete farce" given the likelihood of a proximate general election.[19]


2010 Donegal South–West by-election[6]
Sinn Féin Pearse Doherty[20] 39.85 13,719 13,736 15,188 16,897
Fianna Fáil Brian Ó Domhnaill[21] 21.33 7,344 7,358 7,636 8,069
Fine Gael Barry O'Neill[1] 18.66 6,424 6,442 7,313 8,182
Independent Thomas Pringle[22] 9.99 3,438 3,491 3,763  
Labour Frank McBrearty Jnr[23] 9.78 3,366 3,375    
Independent Anne Sweeney[24] 0.39 133      
Electorate: 62,299   Valid: 34,424   Spoilt: 484   Quota: 17,213   Turnout: 57.39%


    CNN noted that support for the three left-leaning candidates, Pearse Doherty, Thomas Pringle and Frank McBrearty, Jnr, added up to 60% of the poll.[25] Doherty said that vote was a rejection of the interference of the IMF in Irish affairs and said he would be voting against the 2011 Budget on 7 December. After negotiations with left-wing Independent TDs Finian McGrath and Maureen O'Sullivan, a Technical Group was formed in the Dáil to give its members more speaking time.[26][27] The Fianna Fáil vote dropped from 50% at the 2007 general election to 21% at this by-election. The government majority in the Dáil was reduced to two.[28][29]

    The by-election served as a preview to the February 2011 general election, which resulted in a meltdown for the Fianna Fáil party. In July 2011 the new Fine Gael–Labour coalition introduced a bill, passed by the Oireachtas as the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2011, among whose provisions was a maximum seat vacancy of six months before a Dáil by-election would be obligatory.[30]

    See also


    1. "Date set for Donegal South West poll". The Irish Times. 4 November 2010.
    2. "Chief whip says no ulterior motive for by-election delay". Donegal Democrat. 12 January 2010. Archived from the original on 24 January 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
    3. "First Donegal byelection votes cast". The Irish Times. 22 November 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
    4. Sheahan, Fionnan (10 July 2008). "Speculation begins over who will fill TD position". Irish Independent. Retrieved 15 July 2008.
    5. "Court declares byelection delay unconstitutional". The Irish Times. 4 November 2010.
    6. "Donegal South–West: By-election 2010". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
    7. "SF attempts to force Donegal bye-election". RTÉ News. 4 May 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
    8. "Immediate Donegal bye-election voted down". RTÉ News. 5 May 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
    9. "Bye-election judicial review is allowed". RTÉ News. 12 July 2010. Retrieved 12 July 2010.
    10. "Government to hold bye-election this month". RTÉ News. 3 November 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
    11. "Doherty -v- Government of Ireland & Anor". www.courts.ie. 3 November 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2010.
    12. "Bond yields remain stubbornly high". The Irish Times. 8 November 2010.
    13. "Pressure intensifies on bond yields as interest rate hits 8.7%". The Irish Times. 11 November 2010.
    14. "Lenihan to meet Rehn on detail of four-year budget plan". The Irish Times. 6 November 2010.
    15. "IMF says Europe has ability to help Ireland". RTÉ News. 18 November 2010.
    16. "Cabinet meets to discuss budget". The Irish Times. 7 November 2010.
    17. "Poll says SF to win Donegal SW by-election". Newstalk. 18 November 2010. Archived from the original on 23 November 2010.
    18. "Cowen wants budget passed before general election". The Irish Times. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
    19. "Donegal's Sweeney withdraws from by-election race". Irish Examiner. 23 November 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
    20. "Sinn Féin to demand date for by-election". Ocean FM. 11 January 2010. Retrieved 24 January 2010.[permanent dead link]
    21. "FF selects candidate for Donegal by-election]". RTÉ News. 7 November 2010.
    22. "Tánaiste and MEP at odds over Donegal byelection". The Irish Times. 6 November 2010.
    23. "McBrearty set to contest by-election". Donegal Democrat. 4 February 2010. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
    24. "Independent TD emerges as new by-election candidate". BreakingNews.ie. Thomas Crosbie Media. 10 November 2010. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
    25. John Murray Brown in Dublin, FT. "Irish government concedes loss of Donegal - CNN.com". Edition.cnn.com. Retrieved 26 November 2010.[dead link]
    26. "SF forms Dáil Technical Group". The Irish Times. 10 December 2010.
    27. "Pearse Doherty elected in Donegal South West". RTÉ News. 26 November 2010.
    28. "Doherty wins Donegal byelection". The Irish Times. 26 November 2010.
    29. "Sinn Féin's Doherty wins by-election, FF third". BreakingNews.ie. 26 November 2010.
    30. "Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2011: Second Stage". Dáil Éireann (31st Dáil) debates. Oireachtas. 5 July 2011. Retrieved 2 April 2020.; "Electoral (Amendment) Act 2011 s.2". electronic Irish Statute Book (eISB). Retrieved 2 April 2020.