DUBLIN: Mary Lou McDonald, leader of left-wing republican party Sinn Fein, said on Monday she planned talks with all other Irish political parties after what even her rivals described as a “remarkable” election result.
Sinn Fein narrowly topping the polls has shocked Ireland’s political establishment, which has for years been dominated by the traditional “big two” parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Sinn Fein used to be seen as the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, which fought against British rule in Northern Ireland.
McDonald told national broadcaster RTE her preference would be to form a government without Fianna Fail or Fine Gael. “I want a people’s government to be formed,” she said.
Sinn Fein’s surprise gains in Saturday’s election left Fine Gael and Fianna Fail without enough seats to form a government.
“The old two-party system is now a thing of the past,” McDonald said.
Although Sinn Fein were ahead with 25.4 per cent of the first preference votes, Fianna Fail is poised to win the most seats.
Sinn Fein only fielded 41 candidates for the 160 seats. It held 36 of the 102 seats declared by early Monday afternoon.
Ruling centre-right party Fine Gael, in third place for first-preference votes, had a difficult election after “remarkable” results for Sinn Fein, said Paschal Donohoe, the party’s director of elections. McDonald said she would talk to the Green party, the left-leaning Social Democrats, Labour and the People Before Profit Solidarity grouping about forming a government.
Those parties are expected to gain about 22 seats in total.
But the most likely way for Sinn Fein to find the 80-plus seats required for a majority in parliament would be an agreement with opposition centre-right party Fianna Fail.
Fianna Fail and the ruling Fine Gael had previously ruled out a coalition with Sinn Fein.
But Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin suggested late on Sunday that, while there was “serious incompatibility” between his party and SinnFein, he remained open-minded on possible cooperation.
“There is an onus on all that a functioning government is formed,” Martin told reporters.
Under Ireland’s electoral system of proportional representation with a single transferable vote, counts can take several days. Final results may not be declared until late Monday.
Fine Gael’s vote share dropped to 20.9 per cent and two high-profile ministers lost their seats.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, said the new political landscape would make coalition talks difficult, as two parties alone may not have enough seats to form a government.
Fine Gael’s Varadkar again ruled out cooperation with Sinn Fein on Monday.
“I think politicians have to believe what they say, and we were unequivocal in this campaign that while we were aiming to talk to all other parties, we wouldn’t be willing to form a coalition with SinnFein,” he told RTE.
Varadkar said the shunning of Sinn Fein was “in large part because of their policies in relation to crime, in relation to tax and the way the economy and society should be run.
“But also (because of) our deep concerns about their democratic structures,” he added. — dpa