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Sinn Fein coalition untenable, says Fianna Fail TD

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has expressed a desire to lead a ‘people’s government’ made up of left-wing parties.


Sinn Fein will work to form a ‘people’s government’, leader Mary Lou McDonald said (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein will work to form a ‘people’s government’, leader Mary Lou McDonald said (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein will work to form a ‘people’s government’, leader Mary Lou McDonald said (Niall Carson/PA)

A senior Fianna Fail politician has described a mooted coalition government with Sinn Fein as untenable.

Jim O’Callaghan also insisted his party leader, Micheal Martin, had not softened his stance on ruling out the party as coalition partners.

The prospect of an unprecedented link-up between the two bitter rivals is one consequence of Sinn Fein’s stunning successes at the polls.

The party smashed Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s 90-year duopoly on power when it emerged from Saturday’s election with the most first preference votes.

Despite their nationwide victories, the party will not finish the contest with the most seats, primarily because it failed to run enough candidates to capitalise on its surge at the polls.

Mr O’Callaghan, whose Fianna Fail party is likely to end up with the most seats, poured cold water on the idea of a coalition as his election was confirmed in Dublin Bay South.

“We gave an assurance prior to the General Election that we wouldn’t go into coalition with Sinn Fein. That’s what we said to the electorate,” he said.

IRISH Election
(PA Graphics)

“That’s what I said on the doorstep when people raised it with me. I don’t think it’s tenable now to change our policy in respect of that.

“That’s not in any way a personalised comment against Sinn Fein or the individuals involved in Sinn Fein.

“We need to recognise we gave a commitment and when you look at the policy differences between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, I don’t think it’s tenable to suggest that we should be in coalition with them.”

Mr O’Callaghan’s views are not echoed by all his colleagues, with some Fianna Fail members having indicated a willingness to do business with the party.

Earlier, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said she would work to form a “people’s government” voters could relate to.

Mrs McDonald’s preference is for a coalition of left-wing parties, without any input from the centre right Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

She pledged to get to grips with crises in housing and health, and bring a new lease of life to public administration.

Counting of votes resumed on Monday, and by 1.30pm 97 of the Dail’s 160 seats were filled.

The remarkable election saw Sinn Fein secure the most first-preference votes and top polls in the vast majority of constituencies across a state previously dominated by the two other large parties.

Sinn Fein received 24.5% of the vote share on first preference, Fianna Fail got 22.2% and Fine Gael 20.9%.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, whose Fine Gael party is the election’s big loser, said it could be months before a government is formed.

Ireland general election 2020: first preference votes
(PA Graphics)

Mrs McDonald told RTE: “We want to talk to anyone who is interested in delivering a programme for government.

“That is about getting to grips with the housing crisis and solving it, getting to grips with the crisis in health, and giving families and workers a break and giving a new lease of life to government.

“A government that people relate to, that is in tune with the realities of people’s day-to-day lives, not one that is aloof and adrift from the experiences of citizens.”

Fine Gael Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said: “It is clear that no political party in our country has a monopoly on representing the people of Ireland.”

None of the parties will come close to securing enough seats to achieve a majority in the Dail parliament, so thoughts have already turned to the make-up of a coalition administration.

Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar celebrates after retaining his seat for Dublin West (PA)

Sinn Fein has been left to rue its decision to run half the number of candidates of its two main rivals.

That will see a significant number of Sinn Fein surplus votes being transferred to other parties in the proportional representation contest.

It is a shakedown that could benefit Sinn Fein indirectly, if its surpluses boost the numbers of potential left wing partners in government.

Smaller groupings such as the Greens, Labour, the Social Democrats and Solidarity/People Before Profit, and a sizeable number of independent TDs, may all be courted as the main parties seek junior coalition partners.

Mrs McDonald said: “This campaign has been about change and giving Sinn Fein a chance to demonstrate what it feels like when it is led by or has a party of the people in it, that has been the theme of our discussions and conversations.

“This vote for Sinn Fein is for Sinn Fein to be in government, for Sinn Fein to make a difference, for Sinn Fein to be tested, for Sinn Fein to deliver.”

General Election Ireland 2020
On Sunday, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin declined to repeat his pre-election pledge never to do business with Sinn Fein (Yui Mok/PA)

On Sunday, Mr Martin declined to repeat his pre-election pledge never to do business with Sinn Fein.

He later cautioned observers not to “jump the gun” in interpreting his remarks as a signal an alliance with the party was in the offing.

Mr Varadkar said his party’s stance on not dealing with Sinn Fein was unchanged.

There are 160 seats in the Dail parliament. The speaker is automatically re-elected, leaving 159 seats up for grabs and 80 the magic number for a majority.

Mr Varadkar’s last government, a minority Fine Gael-led administration that included several independent TDs, was sustained in power through a historic confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fail.

That landmark pact between two parties founded from opposing sides of Ireland’s civil war of the 1920s took 70 days to negotiate following the inconclusive 2016 general election.