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25 May 2022

Who will have the guts to replace Joe McHugh?

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar visits Letterkenny on Friday for FG constituency AGM

Who will have the guts to replace Joe McHugh?

Can Fine Gael find someone to replace Joe McHugh TD?

Fine Gael party strategists are now left with a major headache - who will replace Joe McHugh?

Tánaiste Varadkar hasn't suddenly decided to come to Donegal because of this week's news. His visit has been months in the planning and will include visits to local businesses as well as the constituency annual general meeting in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Letterkenny at 8pm on Friday night.

However, he will discover first hand that finding a replacement candidate will pose major problems.

In the last general election, February 2020 Deputy McHugh amassed 9.84% of the first preference votes (7,621) in the 13 candidate race that saw a 62% turnout (78,099) for the five seats on offer. He was elected on count nine without reaching the quota.

His running mate that day, Cllr Martin Harley yesterday (Wednesday) ruled himself out of seeking the nomination. The Ballybofey publican said he believed the party should wait until after the boundary revision to see how it pans out. That might not happen until at least the end of the year.

Joe McHugh TD with party leader and tánaiste Leo Varadkar TD

In terms of any of the party's four county councillors seeking the job a number of factors are going against them Cllr Barry Sweeny, Ballyshannon is based outside the current constituency boundaries, while Cllr Jimmy Kavanagh, Letterkenny and newcomer, Cllr John McGuinness, Culdaff might not have geography on their side.

In the 2019 local election, Fine Gael secured six seats but since then both Cllr Frank McBrearty Jnr and Cllr Michael McClafferty have defected and gone independent for a variety of reasons.

Cllr Harley said with the right candidate Fine Gael could hold on to Joe McHugh's seat.

"There is definitely a Fine Gael vote in Donegal but I reckon they will need two candidates to gather the votes needed. The boundary changes will also have a bearing. I don't think Fine Gael should move until we see how that pans out," he said.

Former TD Dinny McGinley praised Deputy McHugh's contribution to the political life in Donegal and his work over the years.

He agreed it would be a major challenge to replace the outgoing TD.

"We don't know if the constituency is going to be a five-seater again or two three seaters, it will depend on the population.

"I will be telling Leo Varadkar the party has to reorganise itself in the constituency and find a candidate or candidates that can take a seat. We can't be defeatists. It will certainly be a major challenge but I'll be disappointed if we don't hold at least one seat in Donegal," he said.

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