SINN FÉIN’s success in the Irish General Election at the weekend was due to a desire for change in the Republic prompted by the shortage of housing, a strain on health service, and lack of investment in other public services, commentators have said.
The large young electorate, many of whom have no recollection of the Troubles, have been attracted to the party, led by Dubliner Mary Lou McDonald, for these reasons rather than ideological ones. The actions of Gerry Adams and the IRA — of which Sinn Féin was previously regarded as its political wing — are now past.
Politics is now in turmoil after Sinn Féin gained the majority of first-preference votes in the election, even with its number of candidates.
Both the centrist parties that have governed Ireland for almost 100 years — Fine Gael, which has governed for a decade, with support from Fianna Fáil in a confidence- and supply- agreement, and Fianna Fáil — had vowed not to enter into a coalition with the IRA-associated Sinn Féin.
On Wednesday, Sinn Féin did make contact with smaller left-wing parties and independents, but it is hard to imagine the republican party’s gaining the 80 seats in the 160-seat Dáil (Parliament) to form a government: it already has to power share in Northern Ireland. If it did, it would probably be of very short duration.
The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said on Wednesday that his Fine Gael party, which came third in the election, behind Fianna Fáil, could make a formidable and realistic opposition, and the Tánaiste (deputy leader), Simon Coveney, ruled out any possibility that the party would support Fianna Fáil in a government led by the latter.
What Fianna Fáil, led by the Corkman Micheál Martin, will propose is unknown, although it is highly likely that the party will have a serious influence in the political manoeuvrings in the deal-making process to come.
That process will be protracted, of weeks’ or even months’ duration. The alternative is a return to the polls, which will have to happen should options run out.