One week on from a general election in Ireland and doors continue to close and open in the quest for the government of Ireland. Coalition proposals are still up in the air so what has happened in the last week and who are the main two players in the game? Patrick Sharkey chases the political pack.
We thought we had a a sure fire government last week when it looked for few hours over or so that Fianna Fáil was going to row back from their election promise and go into government with historic rivals, Sinn Féin. The once unworkable arrangement seemed like the only option on the table following the results tally at the end of the counts. The two parties, along with Fine Gale, had an almost equal percentage of seats around 35 average mark but with an early announcement by Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar, that under no circumstances was his party going to enter a coalition with Sinn Féin and that nether they nor Fianna Fáil had the stomach for another minority government propped up by either one of them, the only real option on the table looked like an unholy marriage between two nationalist rivals in Irish politics – Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.
I could go into the history between these two parties and try to explain why they don’t gel together well but should a reader wish to look at that, you can go to a piece by Alan Myler which we published recently that you can find here. Alan goes into excellent detail on this issue and it is recommended reading. So over the last seven days, the Irish airwaves was awash with members of Fianna Fáil talking about “fundamental change of mindset” and a “willingness to look at options” along with talk from Sinn Féin members talking about a “duty to provide government for the people” which all pointed towards a certain coalition on the horizon. Then, a day or so later, the news broke that Fianna Fáil would not consider a collation with Sinn Féin, preferring to look at a more grand coalition with the remaining smaller parties or even unholy alliance with Fine Gael, another unthinkable option but for completely different political reasons to Sinn Féin (again, look at Alan’s piece for this). The move caught Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald completely off guard and prompted her to call on all other parties to say no to any propositions of coalition by Fianna Fáil despite the fact that she was still trying to call Fianna Fáil Leader, Michéal Martin for a second round of negotiations.
So right now, Ireland is in deep division with the question on who the next Taoiseach (prime minster) is going to be. But who are the two protagonists in this battle of the hearts and minds of the Irish people? Let’s provide some background on the players in the Irish game of thrones.
A Teachta Dála (Irish for MP) for the Cork South-Central constituency since 1989, Michéal Martin became Leader of the Opposition in Ireland in March 2011 and Leader of Fianna Fáil in February 2011. Despite the dominance of Sinn Féin on the first day of counting, his party managed to exceed all the seats held by Sinn Féin by one late on. Currently, Martin is now the leader of the most popular political party with a total 39 seats in the Dáil.
In the General election Michéal Martin did not top the polls in his constituency which sowed seeds of doubts about his leadership according to local media sources and he will have tough work to become Taoiseach in what was a transformative election that has seen a rise in left wing votes. The Cork man will however, continue to lead Fianna Fáil in the first ever three way party dominance of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Fine Gael. A large majority of Fianna Fáil TDs told Micheal Martin that they won’t go into coalition with Sinn Féin.
Mary Lou McDonald:
Mary Lou McDonald is the President of Sinn Féin since February 2018. She has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin Central constituency since the 2011 general election and previously served as Vice President of Sinn Féin from 2009 to 2018. Mrs McDonald was also a member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Dublin constituency from 2004 to 2009.
Having campaigned to challenge the establishment and now since Sinn Féin got 37 seats, traditionally, Mary Lou McDonald has done a sharp line in scorn and is a popular figure for challenging the establishment openly. Mary Lou MacDonald has come across as an enigma during the general election campaign with the Sinn Féin leader holding a talent for intimacy, but she remains utterly mysterious. She has stated that the refusals from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to govern with Sinn Féin were “a problem of the old guard believing they are entitled to hold power”. Despite this, Mrs McDonald accepts that numbers are “very, very difficult” to form government of left wing.
Having slammed Michéal Martin for refusing to talk to Sinn Féin as she believes “People voted for change and a new Government”, the Sinn Féin leader has also criticised the refusal of her counterpart, Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin, to negotiate with her party, as she insisted that the electorate does not want a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael grand coalition. The Sinn Féin leader stated it is “quite disgraceful” that Sinn Féin got excluded by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in coalition talks and immediately after the unprecedented results of the 2020 General Election were confirmed, Sinn Féin entered into talks with smaller parties in an attempt to form a broad left wing Government without the big players involved. In recent days, however, it has been widely recognised that a Government involving neither of the two traditionally dominant parties, while technically possible, would be extremely difficult to produce and sustain. Talks with the big two led to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou to process her anger about her former party (Fianna Fáil).
Mary Lou McDonald has had a formidable force rise in Irish politics. The Sinn Féin leader’s impact on the doorstep helped propel her party to potential victory. When Ireland’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and other party chiefs said they would not rule with her nationalist Sinn Féin party, she retorted: “These three wise men of failed government and broken promises still believe that they’re going to have things all their own way.”
But the party politics are only beginning and it will be interesting to see what the next week or so will bring about but whatever the outcome, once on the political sideline, Sinn Féin have now been promoted to the premiership and Ireland for the time being, is a three party political system.