Cope celebrates 40th anniversary of first election to Dáil Éireann

Rosses man championed all causes during illustrious career

Cope celebrates 40th anniversary of first election to Dáil Éireann

An old election flyer from the Cope's election to the Dáil in 1981

Today is a unique milestone for one of Donegal's most capable and affable public representatives.

Pat the Cope Gallagher was first elected to Dáil Éireann 40 years ago on June 12, 1981 and has a record in local, national and international politics that will probably never be surpassed.

His Fianna Fáil party secured 78 seats and 45.26% of the first preference votes in that election but it was the Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition government that came to power with Garret FitzGerald becoming Taoiseach. The general election of 1981 was the first one of five during the 1980s.

The Cope, as he is affectionately known, has been immersed in politics all his life and has enjoyed an illustrious and diverse career serving in more ministerial posts than any other politician from the county ever.

He served as a TD from 1981 to 1997, 2002 to 2009 and 2016 to 2020. He also served as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 1994 to 2002 and from 2009 to 2014.

Born in Burtonport on March 10, 1948, a fishing port in The Rosses, he is the grandson of Paddy 'the Cope' Gallagher, of the Irish Co-Operative movement fame.

He was educated at Dungloe Secondary School – Rosses Community School, Coláiste Éinde in Salthill and at University College, Galway (UCG), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1970.

He worked as a fish exporter until 1982, becoming involved in local politics in 1979.

His middle name 'The Cope' refers to his family connection to The Cope agricultural cooperative which operates in The Rosses area of west Donegal.

This name is still used widely in his profile and was always used on the Fianna Fáil and European Parliament websites.

In Europe he was a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries and also served as Chairman of the delegation for relations with Switzerland, Iceland and Norway and to the European Economic Area (EEA) Joint Parliamentary Committee.

Mr Gallagher was first elected to Donegal County Council in 1979 (chairman in 1985-86) and then Dáil Éireann on this day - June 12 - 40 years ago at the 1981 general election, retaining his seat until retiring at the 1997 general election.

The two others elected in the Donegal South-West constituency that day were party colleague,, the late Clement Coughlan and the Fine Gael TD, the late Jim White.

Pat the Cope's enduring passion for politics led him to deploy his hands-on political experience to many different government departments and proved capable and comfortable in all of them.

He was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Marine from March 12, 1987 to July 12, 1988. He was appointed Minister of State at the Department of the Gaeltacht in July 1987, serving in that post until February 11, 1992 and again in the same post from February 13, 1992 until January 12, 1993. He was appointed Minister of State at the Department of the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in 1993.

In 1994, he was elected to the European Parliament as an MEP for the Connacht–Ulster constituency, and was re-elected at the 1999 European Parliament election.

During his period in Europe, the Cope was a member of a number of committees including Fisheries, Economics and Monetary and Industry and Energy.

Pat the Cope Gallagher

He returned to domestic politics to successfully contest the 2002 general election, and was appointed Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government in June 2002.

In Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's cabinet reshuffle in 2004, he received the portfolio of Minister of State at the Department of Environment and Local Government and at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources from September 29, 2004 to February 14, 2006.

Following a period in this role, he was moved to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, as Minister of State at the Department of Transport from February 14, 2006 where he served until June 14, 2007.

From June 20 2007 to May 12, 2008, he served as Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with special responsibility for Health Promotion and Food Safety.

He was not re-appointed to the Government after Brian Cowen became Taoiseach in May 2008.

He was elected as an MEP for the North-West constituency at the 2009 European Parliament election. Immediately thereafter, Gallagher replaced Brian Crowley as the head of Fianna Fáil's European delegation; this promotion came in the aftermath of Crowley publicly attacking the party's decision to join the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party.

Mr Gallagher was a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Fisheries.

Gallagher lost his seat at the 2014 European Parliament election due mainly to poor strategic planning on behalf of his own party.

In the 2016 general election, after a redrawing of constituency boundaries, he ran alongside the now Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue as the two Fianna Fáil candidates in the new five-seater Donegal constituency. The Cope was elected on the 11th count.

He last post was as Leas-Cheann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann from 2016 to 2020

He lost his seat at the February 2020, with Pádraig Mac Lochlainn winning back the seat Gallagher had won at his expense in 2016.

Highly regarded as a political craftsman, he has for years been the 'go to' politician for the public not only from his own party but all groupings.

He is a strong believer of "pulling on the Donegal jersey" for anyone from the county who needed his help and there are hundreds of stories out there of how 'the Cope' made the impossible happen.

Whether he comes back into politics remains a mystery. He has flatly denied he will make a comeback but in these uncertain times and with confidence in all political parties on the wane, he is one candidate you just cannot rule out.

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