Making up the numbers: a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin coalition

It is difficult to see the two parties forming a government as long as Micheál Martin remains Fianna Fáil leader

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. As long as Martin remains party leader it is difficult to envisage a coalition involving his party and Sinn Féin. Photograph: Oisín McHugh

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. As long as Martin remains party leader it is difficult to envisage a coalition involving his party and Sinn Féin. Photograph: Oisín McHugh

 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has reiterated his determination not to form a coalition with Sinn Féin after the next election regardless of the outcome, although he has left himself a little wriggle room by not ruling out a confidence-and-supply deal with Gerry Adams’s party.

At this juncture it is difficult to see the circumstances in which Sinn Féin would agree to keep a Fianna Fáil government in office, and the reverse scenario is even more unlikely. The possibility of Sinn Féin entering government has become a live political issue since the party leadership earlier this year moved away from its previous insistence on ruling out entering government with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael as a minority partner. Since the stalemate produced by the election of February 2016 a succession of opinion polls have indicated that no party will be anywhere close to a majority after the next election, so a coalition or a new confidence-and-supply arrangement appears the only realistic possibility.

The prevailing political wisdom is that if Fianna Fáil is the biggest party after the next election Fine Gael would agree to reciprocate a confidence-and-supply deal. However, if Fianna Fáil is not the biggest party it would be very difficult for Martin to agree to allow Fine Gael to govern for another term, particularly if the numbers for a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin arrangement add up.

His decision to emphatically rule out coalition with Sinn Féin at this stage is clearly designed to head off growing pressure from elements in his own party who have made it clear they would be willing to consider such an arrangement. While many in politics believe that pre-election pledges on coalition options automatically become redundant if the numbers dictate, Martin should be taken at his word. Before the last election he ruled out coalition with Fine Gael and he stuck to that position in the face of considerable pressure to abandon it in light of the Dáil stalemate. As long as he remains party leader it is difficult to envisage a coalition involving Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.

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