Sinn Féin holds talks with left-wing parties in bid to form a government
Fianna Fáil meets on Thursday for discussions about possible coalition options
Pearse Doherty says Sinn Féin has made contact with the Greens, Solidarity-People Before Profit, Social Democrats and Labour. Photograph: Tom Honan
Sinn Féin held talks with the leaders of a number of left-wing parties on Wednesday as it tries to assess the viability of leading a government without the involvement of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Labour’s decision not to countenance a return to government, albeit it has offered to play a “constructive” role from the opposition benches, has made an already difficult task even tougher.
Even if Sinn Féin secured the support of the Greens, Social Democrats, Solidarity/People Before Profit and a range of Independent TDs it still looks like falling short of the 80 seats required for a Dáil majority.
Party president Mary Lou McDonald met Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and People Before Profit representatives Richard Boyd Barrett and Gerry Carroll.
She will meet the Social Democrats on Thursday.
“Sinn Féin wants to form a government of change and our objective is a government that builds homes, cuts rents and freezes them, reduces the pension age to 65, gives workers and families a break, and advances Irish unity,” she said after Wednesday’s talks.
Meanwhile, the Green Party leader also met the leaders of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Social Democrats, though it is understood that these were very much of a preliminary nature.
The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will meet his new parliamentary party at Leinster House on Thursday for discussions about possible coalition options and how the party should proceed.
Social Democrats co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, met their four new TDs at Leinster House, and expressed doubt over the feasibility of a minority government in another confidence and supply arrangement working.
Earlier, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who led his party to its second worst election performance in history, said responsibility now lay with Sinn Féin, as the party that attracted the most votes, to seek to put together a “socialist” administration. However, when asked whether there was any chance Fine Gael could be part of an alternative governing coalition, potentially alongside Fianna Fáil, he insisted “anything was possible”.
He said another general election was also a possibility, though he insisted that would not be good for the country.
Mr Varadkar made clear he wanted to continue to lead Fine Gael, even if that was in opposition. “I think the likelihood, at the end of the process, is I will be leader of the opposition and that will require my new parliamentary party still wanting me to do that. I will want to do that,” he said.
After attending the European Financial Forum at Dublin Castle, Mr Varadkar criticised Sinn Féin, claiming the party had made a series of “remarkable promises” to the Irish people, commitments it was now obliged to deliver on. He also accused the party of promoting a “fake history”, insisting it was Fine Gael that could rightly lay claim to founding the Irish state, not the modern incarnation of Sinn Féin, which he pointed out was established in the 1970s.
“We were defeated in this election and there is no point trying to dress that up in any way,” he said. He said he had not been involved in any talks with Ms McDonald or with Fianna Fáil.
Asked about the prospect of a mooted “super coalition” of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and potentially the Greens, Mr Varadkar said he would be willing to talk with rival political leaders if there was a need to “give the country political stability”.
If Ms McDonald does not reach 80 seats, she could theoretically form a minority government. However, that would require an understanding with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, through some form of confidence-and-supply arrangement, that would see them abstain on key votes from the opposition benches.
Mr Boyd Barrett said a minority Sinn Féin-led Irish government may not last long but it could still achieve progress on key domestic issues. “It wouldn’t be sustainable for very long but I still think it’s worth exploring if we could do something to urgently address the housing crisis, some of the problems in the health service with the desperate waiting lists, some of the issues around climate change and the cost of living,” he told RTÉ Radio One.
Fianna Fáil emerged from Saturday’s election as the largest party by the narrowest margin over the surging Sinn Féin. Mr Martin’s party finished with 38 seats to Sinn Féin’s 37 at the end of two days of counting. But given the Fianna Fáil Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl was re-elected without contest, both parties essentially “won” the same number of seats.
Fine Gael was the big loser, winning just 35 seats having entered the campaign as the largest party on 47.
Meanwhile the election fallout has continued on Wednesday with Labour leader Brendan Howlin announcing he would step down as party leader. Mr Howlin, who has led the party since 2016, said he would ask the party’s executive to arrange a leadership election as soon as possible. He also said he had recommended – and his TDs had accepted – that Labour will not enter coalition in this Dáil.
Separately Mr Martin is facing calls to “consider his position” by grassroots party members in Co Cavan.
Shane P O’Reilly, Fianna Fáil cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council, said he has “never seen such anger” among party activists as he has since the outcome of the general election.
Rank-and-file members countrywide were “absolutely hurting” from the electoral losses, which he blamed on a decision at leadership level to fight the election “not on policy but on personalities”.
“Far be it from me to start calling on leaders to resign, or headquarters staff to be chopped ... a word said in haste can often be regretted later,” he told Northern Sound radio station.
Mr O’Reilly said Mr Martin’s future was a decision for himself.
“I’m not going to tell the man to resign, I’m not going to tell the man what to do. I have my own opinions on it ... there is a lot of anger.”
The party as a whole “needs to do some soul searching”, he added.
Mr O’Reilly said there is an “extreme disconnect” between the Oireachtas and people on the ground, adding that party members are “taken for granted”.
“It is atrocious what has happened us,” he said.
“It is time for us as a political party to have a damn good look at ourselves.”
Fianna Fáil Cavan councillor John Paul Feeley said he was “mystified that the party leader seems to be talking about the formation of a government.”
“I think it’s extraordinary at this stage that he hasn’t seen the light that we have been very poorly led during this campaign and indeed well before it,” he added.
“I think that Micheál Martin really needs to consider his position. I think if he had any decency he would have resigned already. I think there needs to be a clean sweep in terms of the national organisation.”
‘Very bland front bench’
Mr Feeley also attacked what he called a “very bland front bench” in the party, saying he would have difficulty identifying the brief held by any more than four or five of them.
Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said it was now up to Sinn Féin to sort out a government in good time, adding that a clear majority of people voted against his own party.
Earlier Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator in its bid to form a government Pearse Doherty vowed to “intensify” coalition talks as quickly as possible.
He said the party would be telling smaller left-leaning parties on Wednesday there was a “huge opportunity to change the face of Ireland.”
“We don’t want to sit back,” he said.
“We think there is an urgency in relation to this – there should be no delay in government formation. There are big issues that need to be sorted.”
Mr Doherty told Newstalk: “What I want to do, as the lead person in our negotiating team, is intensify this as quickly as possible. “
Mr Doherty said his party had “reached out” to the Greens, Solidarity-People Before Profit, Social Democrats and Labour.
“Obviously our first port of call is to talk to those parties where we would have a common platform, to tease out with the possibility of putting together a government for change,” he said.– Additional reporting: PA