Legal effort to demand by-election
Legal effort to demand by-election

Sinn Fein Senator Pearse Doherty has brought a High Court challenge to the refusal by the Dublin government to hold an overdue byelection in the Donegal South West constituency.

The vacancy was created by the election of Pat “the Cope” Gallagher to the European Parliament in June last year.

The High Court yesterday gave Mr Doherty leave to seek a declaration, by way of judicial review, that the Fianna Fail/Green Party government is under a duty not to oppose parliamentary motions to hold the election.

The government will be required to respond to the application at a further hearing on July 29th.

Mr Doherty narrowly lost out on winning a seat in the three-seat constituency in the 2007 general election after winning almost 8,500 first-preference votes.

Mr Doherty said yesterday he believed that the case would be successful. He said his case was grounded on very strong constitutional principles, including the requirement that there should be no more than one Dail deputy for every 30,000 people in the electorate.

He said the ratio in Donegal South West has been one Deputy to 36,000 people for well over a year.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the decision was an important development in the effort to force the government to live up to its democratic responsibilities.

“Like constituencies across this country, Donegal South West is facing serious economic difficulties, including high levels of unemployment in particular.

“Continued political under-representation can only compound the problems of disadvantage being experienced in Donegal South West.”

Sinn Fein has made several attempts in the Dail to have the writ for the by-election moved but has not been successful.

The proceedings are against the Government and the Attorney General, with Dail Eireann as a notice party, and the case will be back before the court later this month.

In an affidavit, Mr Doherty said he was making the application to the court as a registered elector in Donegal South West. His party had endeavoured to have the writ for the election moved but those efforts were resisted by the Government, he said.

There was “no realistic prospect” of the Government ceasing to resist such motions “for the foreseeable future”, particularly because it was using a whip to “control” many members of the Dail, he said.

Under Dail standing orders, a motion to move the writ cannot be tabled for another six months from the previous occasion, except with permission of the Ceann Comhairle, he added. His solicitor had written to the Attorney General on three occasions since June 18th last, seeking confirmation the writ would be moved expeditiously but in his replies the Attorney General had “in substance” rejected the request.

Mr Doherty said it had been “insulting to the people of Donegal” by Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport that there was “no demand” in the constituency for a by-election.

“In the last poll published by the Irish Times on whether or not there should be an immediate by-election 60% of the population said they want to see one take place without delay,” he said.

Only 24% believed that it shouldn’t be held immediately with 16% offering no opinion on the matter. That’s why I am challenging the Government in High Court on this issue.

“Two thirds of voters say they are not happy with the Government’s stalling tactics in putting the vote to the people. What other figure or percentage would Minister Hanafin accept as a clear indication of a majority democratic demand?”

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