In February we had a general election that produced the most seismic result in the history of the State; shattering the traditional duopoly of the so-called “big two” parties and reshaping the Irish political landscape.
For the first time ever, neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael won the largest share of the popular vote, and for the first time ever the combined forces of political conservatism failed to win a majority of Dáil seats.
Parties that advocated a different vision of how the State might work – in terms of how we provide adequate, affordable housing for our citizens, how our health system functions, how we provide for people’s retirement and how we redistribute wealth – made big gains on the basis of a mandate for real change.
That is what people voted for, and notwithstanding the current crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, the people have cast their verdict and before long the election result must count for something.
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The continuation in office of a caretaker government for an indefinite period is neither desirable, practical or constitutionally tenable. More than ever, given the crisis we are in, the country needs a stable government to see us through what is to come and to deliver what people voted for.
The caretaker Government has taken steps to introduce temporary emergency measures that Sinn Féin has long advocated should be permanent
To that end, we in Sinn Féin have talked to every party and Independent TD that would talk to us, and those discussions have been very useful and productive.
When the Dáil had a vote for taoiseach, I received the most votes – I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate the extent to which people voted for change and to illustrate that Sinn Féin wants to be in government.
Nothing that has happened in recent weeks has changed our view. We want to be in government and we want to deliver change.
The caretaker Government has taken steps to introduce temporary emergency measures that Sinn Féin has long advocated should be permanent ones in tackling the many crises that we face, including freezing rents, establishing a single-tier health system and providing childcare as a public service.
All of this can be done; in ordinary times, as well as extraordinary. That is what we in Sinn Féin believe, and other parties and TDs share our vision for that type of change.
Since the Dáil last met to vote for a taoiseach – and hence a new government – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have manoeuvred to exclude Sinn Féin and to attempt to establish a government with both of them as component parts.
Whatever way they dress it up – national crisis or not – the reality is that the primary objective of a coalition of the two is to keep Sinn Féin out of the corridors of power.
Keeping people out of government, rather than wanting to be in there fixing the very real problems that exist in our society, is no basis on which to form a government.
It must be about delivery and conviction, in the current crisis and beyond.
In the immediate period that means everything that can be done is done to keep people safe, to bolster capacity in the health service and to ensure we have the maximum level of all-Ireland harmonisation to save lives.
What we need is real action on the big issues that were, and are, at crisis point regardless of the pandemic: housing, health and climate action
It also means stopping the banks and insurance industry profiteering from the current crisis, making sure that workers are provided for and ensuring that families are not burdened with debt in the aftermath of the pandemic.
All of this will ensure that we can get the economy back on its feet once this crisis subsides – and it will.
What we need is real action on the big issues that were, and are, at crisis point regardless of the pandemic: housing, health and climate action.
The failure to address these issues comprehensively in recent years has made tackling the Covid-19 pandemic all the more difficult by leaving people living in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation, by failing to increase capacity in the health service and failing to clip the wings of banks and the insurance industry.
If anything, this crisis has shown exactly why we need a government for change, because a continuation of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in power will not deliver the type of government the people need.
Only a government for change will put workers and families first always, not just in extraordinary times.
While Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar may wish to keep us out of power; 535,595 people disagree and rejected their politics of exclusion
Only a government for change will work towards Irish unity, something needed now more than ever.
Sinn Féin has remained in contact with the Green Party, the Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit, Independents 4 Change and a range of rural and regional Independents in relation to government formation, and a range of options are being discussed.
Our mandate is as legitimate as anyone else’s and our voters have the same rights as everyone else.
While Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar may wish to keep us out of power; 535,595 people disagree and rejected their politics of exclusion.
They have sought to maintain that stance, even in the face of a national public health emergency, and have refused to even talk to Sinn Féin.
Political leaders have a duty to lead, so we will continue in our efforts to deliver a government for change.
Mary Lou McDonald is a TD and president of Sinn Féin