Home News Ireland News Fianna Fáil edge Sinn Féin by one seat

Fianna Fáil edge Sinn Féin by one seat

Leader of Fianna Fail Michael Martin speaking at the Irish Institute of International and European Affairs, in Dublin this morning.

The counting has been completed in all 39 Dáil constituencies.

That result put Fianna Fáil’s seat total at 38, just one ahead of Sinn Féin on 37 and three ahead of Fine Gael on 35.

With Fianna Fáil’s Seán Ó Fearghaíl re-elected without contest as Ceann Comhairle, both of the top two parties won the same number of seats.

The Dáil will reconvene on Thursday 20 February, but it is likely to be some time before a new government is formed, with coalition talks expected to be protracted and difficult.

Even though they did not win the most seats, Sinn Féin had storming success as the party with the most first preferences (nearly a quarter of all votes cast).

The country’s two hitherto most popular parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are still reeling from the shock of being forced into second and third place respectively.

Fianna Fáil, with its second worst election result in history, took the most seats in parliament but not enough to form a government by itself.

The new threeway split in Irish politics is between three parties who can trace their political lineage to the original Sinn Féin a century ago.

For the first time since the modern party, affiliated to the Provisional IRA, dropped its abstentionist policy to seek election to the Dáil more than 20 years ago, Ireland’s government will be shaped by a decidedly left-leaning Sinn Féin – either in coalition, supporting a minority government or, for the very first time, the country’s official opposition

It is wary of the diminished fate of other smaller parties that have gone into coalition with either of the two civil war giants, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

But it was hurt by its decision to sit out talks to form or support a government in 2016 and seen by voters as a party that always opposed but did not propose policies.

- Advertisement -
Mary Lou celebrates a historic result for Sinn Féin.

This time SF leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party, which outlined a series of popular left-of-centre proposals on the key issues of this election – housing, healthcare, homelessness and job security – wants to form a government.

Two of its star performers, Finance spokesman Pearse Doherty and Housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, offered attractive policies which voters found plausible compared to existing Fine Gael policy.

Fine Gael had governed Ireland since 2011 when Irish voters roundly punished Fianna Fáil for crashing the country’s economy with the banking and property crash.

It went into coalition with the Labour Party – which had won 37 seats with just under 20 per cent of the popular vote – as cover for the austerity policies which followed.

Leo Varadkar kept his seat but did not top the poll.

By the subsequent election, 2016, Labour took the brunt of the punishment for those policies and has struggled to reach single figures ever since.

In 2016 it took 70 days for a reduced Fine Gael to persuade Independent TDs to enter into coalition with it in a minority government, supported
by Fianna Fáil in a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement. But as many as three quarters of Irish voters had not actually voted for a Fine Gael government. Last Saturday they punished both it and Fianna Fáil.

Outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s defeated TDs ruefully admit he had the opportunity to call the election in November while his party enjoyed a ‘Brexit bounce’ in opinion polls and Sinn Féin was blamed by voters for the Stormont deadlock.

Mr Varadkar – who had to wait for several recounts before retaining his Dublin seat and failed to bring in another TD on transfers – said he wants to stay on either as Opposition leader or supporting a Fianna Fail minority government. Either way, he categorically ruled out entering government with Sinn Fein.

He has shown no inclination to return the lifeline offered to his party by FF leader Micheál Martin the last time around, calculating that he, and his party, will want to avoid the ignominy of being the only FF party leader not to be Taoiseach.

The irony will not be wasted on his detractors that Mr Varadkar was among the first to call for a change in party leadership when his predecessor as Taoiseach and FG leader Enda Kenny led the party to its poor performance at the polls.

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, under pressure from his own party members including one of his predecessors, Bertie Ahern, softened his own prior opposition to any coalition with Sinn Fein saying that as a democrat he recognised the party’s mandate.

But, he said, fundamental policy differences between them would not disappear overnight as he appeared to open the way for detailed negotiations on p r o g r a m m e management.

- Advertisement -