New Irish government ‘could take weeks to form’

| February 11, 2020

On what is the week of St. Valentine’s Day, political parties in Ireland are to begin a form of romantic courtship in the coming days as they eye each other up with a view to establishing a new government or administrative marriage of convenience, writes Ken Murray.

The phenomenal success of left-wing party Sinn Féin in last weekend’s General Election, a party once described as the political wing of one-time terrorist group the provisional IRA, has shocked the Irish establishment to its core with voters clearly indicating they want change.

The Party, which is headed by Mary-Lou McDonald, achieved 24.5% of the first preference vote under Ireland’s PR system, followed by Fianna Fáil on 22.2% with Leo Varadkar’s ruling Fine Gael coming in third on 20.9%.

With FF on 38 seats, SF on 37, FG on 35, the Greens on 12 and 80 required for a majority, the big question now is, who will cut a deal with Sinn Féin, a political movement hell bent on ending British rule in Northern Ireland and described as the most “toxic” party in the British and Irish isles?

Speaking to RTE Television at the weekend, the leader of what was up to last week the main opposition party in The Dáil, Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, did something of a notable u-turn on a long held position by hinting that he is prepared to talk to Sinn Féin!

He said: “I’m a democrat. I listen to the people, I respect the decision of the people.”

Martin’s opportunity to get in to government has put him facing a delicate dilemma.

This is likely to be his last chance to become Taoiseach or PM having led his party in to General elections in 2011, 2016 and last week but failing, so far, to get the top job.

However, many senior members of his party want nothing to do with Sinn Fein as their philosophy is modelled on out-dated Marxism principles and whose widespread membership contains numerous convicted IRA gunmen.

If Martin fails to get in to Government, his nine years in charge of Fianna Fáil could be at an end.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who heads the right-wing Fine Gael party which is tough on law and order and views Sinn Fein with complete contempt, has, in the past few days, emphatically ruled out doing a deal with Mary-Lou McDonald.

Ironically both Martin and Varadkar repeatedly encouraged Sinn Féin to enter Government in the regional Stormont Parliament in Belfast with the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party which re-convened last month after a three-year hiatus!

Speaking to reporters on Monday (10 February), Sinn Fein Leader Mary-Lou McDonald indicated she was talking to others with a view to forming a left-wing multi-party coalition.

Speaking in Dublin, she said on radio: “I’ve made contact with the Greens, Social Democrats and People before Profit [party].

“I’m glad Micheál Martin, it seems, has come to his senses,” she added, indicating that a deal with Fianna Fáil was something she could explore.

In 2016, a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which took 70 days to cement, landed Leo Varadkar the position of Taoiseach.

With the numbers in the 160-seat parliament delicately poised, any talks with Sinn Fein are likely to be as long again and longer this time around.

Failing an agreed pact between Sinn Fein and another block, a second general election later in the year can not be ruled out.

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