Ireland’s leftwing nationalist Sinn Féin party says it has formally requested talks with the centre-right Fianna Fáil to discuss options for forming an Irish government after last weekend’s inconclusive election.
The request puts pressure on Fianna Fáil’s leader, Micheal Martin, whose party won 38 seats in the 160-seat parliament, to clarify his position on a possible tie-up with Sinn Féin, which has 37 seats.
Those two parties and the centre-right Fine Gael, led by Leo Varadkar, each secured just under a quarter of seats, meaning it will be hard to form a government unless at least two of the three cooperate.
Surveys showed that voters rejected the traditional parties over healthcare and the high cost/low availability of housing, and were won over by Sinn Féin’s high-spending promises and a pledge to freeze residential rents.
During the campaign, Martin ruled out doing a deal with Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but in the immediate aftermath of the vote he refused to completely reject the possibility.
Sinn Féin’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said in a statement: “Micheal Martin has said: ‘I am a democrat, I listen to the people and I respect the decision of the people,’ so he knows that the people have voted for change.”
She told a meeting of newly elected Sinn Féin MPs she knew it would be a challenge for Fianna Fáil to join a government with her party, but the established parties’ stance of ignoring Sinn Féin’s mandate had “run out of road”.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have long shunned Sinn Féin, citing policy differences and the party’s historic links to the IRA.
Both parties are also opposed to Sinn Féin’s spending promises, its pledge to scrap property tax, and plans to raise income taxes on high earners. They say this would discourage foreign multinationals, which employ 10% of Irish workers.
There are open divisions among Fianna Fáil politicians over talking to Sinn Féin. Two members of parliament, one a senior member of Martin’s frontbench, strongly ruled it out on Thursday before the party’s first meeting since the election. The Irish Times reported that Martin was expected to rule out such a coalition.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have dominated Irish politics since it broke from British rule nearly a century ago.
The two lawmakers, Niall Collins and newly elected Cathal Crowe, suggested Fianna Fáil could instead lead a minority government similar to the previous administration Varadkar led via a co-operation deal with Fianna Fáil, then the main opposition party.
While Collins suggested a minority administration involving all three parties, the foreign minister, Simon Coveney, of Fine Gael, repeated his view that another minority government was not a good idea after both parties suffered in the election.
Another such arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would allow Sinn Féin to continue to build in opposition, Coveney told the national broadcaster RTE.
Fine Gael has ruled out governing with Sinn Féin. Varadkar said during the campaign that he would consider entering a full coalition with Fianna Fáil for the first time. And he said on Wednesday he would be willing to help form a government if Sinn Féin failed to do so.
“If we thought it was the right thing to do for the country, then of course we would do it,” Coveney said, when asked if he would rule out backing or facilitating a Martin-led government.