Belfast Telegraph

More court action over by-elections

The Government is facing two more potentially damaging court battles over delayed by-elections.

As the row over four empty Dail seats deepens, Thursday November 25 has been set for the long-awaited Donegal South-West poll, but Taoiseach Brian Cowen refused to budge on other votes.

Fine Gael vowed to bring the dispute to a head by asking the courts to coerce the Government into facing a likely voter backlash in Waterford, Dublin South and Donegal North-East.

And if Fianna Fail are defeated in the Donegal South-West stronghold the loss could severely derail the December 7 Budget.

Enda Kenny, Fine Gael leader, refused to accept the Government's plan for a single by-election forcing the Dail to be adjourned. "It is an attempt to use court time to have a longer stay in government which is doomed," he said.

Eamon Gilmore, Labour leader, called for all by-elections to be held together. "What this is about is a Government that is clapped out, that no longer has the confidence of the people, that the people want out of office, trying to stay in office for as long as possible and they know that if they hold all the by-elections together their majority begins to wither away," Mr Gilmore said.

Caoimhghin O Caolain, Sinn Fein, said: "We can now dispense with the Government claim that they could not hold the by-election because it would have distracted them from the economy. That's nonsense. Is democracy and giving the people their rightful say a distraction? That's an insult to the people."

The two Fine Gael lawsuits attempt to build on Sinn Fein's High Court victory. Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns supported Senator Pearse Doherty's claim that the writ for the by-election should have been moved some time in the last 17 months. The judge stopped short of ordering a date be set but ruled the delay was unreasonable, unconstitutional and a repeat could lead to more draconian action.

Dublin South has been a TD short for nine months since journalist George Lee quit and Waterford eight months after former minister Martin Cullen resigned on health grounds.

Government Chief Whip John Curran criticised the Fine Gael lawsuits. He has said the Government is committed to moving writs for the two seats in the spring.

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