Mary Lou McDonald seeks coalition deal with FG or FF

Party expects to open negotiations on coalition deal after next election

Mary Lou McDonald said that she expected to talk to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about forming a government. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Mary Lou McDonald said that she expected to talk to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about forming a government. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said she wants to form a coalition government after the next election with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

“I want to lead the party into government. I want to do that from the strongest possible position. I want us to discuss, debate, agree with others a programme for government,” Ms McDonald told The Irish Times in an interview.

She said that she expected to talk to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about forming a government after the next election, although both parties have repeatedly ruled out any coalition deal with Sinn Féin.

In the plainest statement yet of her party’s impatience for power in Dublin, Ms McDonald said she had no preference between the two rivals, and rejected suggestions that she had been “flirting” with Fine Gael in recent weeks. She also rejected suggestions that Sinn Féin was closer “culturally” to Fianna Fáil.

‘Squeezed middle’

She made a strong pitch to the so-called “squeezed middle”, stressing the priorities of public services and the cost of living, as she seeks to broaden Sinn Féin’s appeal from its working class base.

She said that a programme for government drawn up by Sinn Féin and one of the big two parties would be a document that “will be ambitious, that will be different and that looks at the red line issues around the health system, people’s standard of living, people’s capacity to have just some disposable income at the end of the week or the end of the month”.

Ms McDonald stressed the interests of “people who are at work but are still struggling, people who pay their taxes, do everything by the book and still constantly have their hand in the pocket for everything and who scratch their heads and wonder ‘what am I paying those taxes for?’

“People who look at the system and say, it doesn’t work, or it doesn’t work for me, it’s not accountable.”

The Sinn Féin leader is seeking to modify her party’s stance in advance of an election to try to keep it prominent in the final stages of a campaign when the attention of many voters turns to the formation of the next government.

Opposition

However, the Sinn Féin leader will have to convince either or both big parties to overcome their stated opposition to doing a deal with her.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has trenchantly ruled out any deal with Sinn Féin, while Fine Gael has also said it will not form an administration with the party.

As recently as last weekend, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan categorically ruled out any coalition, citing the party’s economic policies and its association with the IRA, saying “a leopard doesn’t change its spots”.

On Brexit, Ms McDonald backed the stated intention of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to demand substantial progress on the Irish border by the time of the June EU summit.

“If we are still in a state of drift, the responsible and proportionate thing to do is to hit not the stop button, but the pause button,” she said.

“We’ve said this publicly and privately to the Taoiseach. It would be dangerous to leave these things bleed into the summer and the autumn. We need to bring it to a head in June, not the autumn. The Taoiseach needs to do that now.”