Sinn Féin hunts for leftwing allies in bid to lead government

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has begun courting potential leftwing allies as she bids to lead Ireland’s next government after the nationalists came within one seat of being the joint-largest party in parliament.

Ms McDonald’s nationalist party secured 37 seats in the 160-member Dàil, beaten by only the slimmest margin after the centrist Fianna Fáil won 38 seats.

“Sinn Féin won the election, I think everybody accepts that,” said Ms McDonald. “Had we fielded more candidates, we would, it seems, have won more seats.”

The result was highly disappointing for Fianna Fáil, which believed it was on course for victory before Sinn Féin surged to win the popular vote.

The centre-right Fine Gael party of prime minister Leo Varadkar secured 35 seats, setting it on course for opposition after nine years in government.

It was the second-worst election result ever for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which have dominated Irish politics for a century in an entrenched duopoly now broken by Sinn Féin’s advance.

Although the Dàil resumes on February 20, all parties say it could be weeks before there is any clarity on the composition of the next government, given the fragmented nature of the parliament.

Ms McDonald, who on Monday said she could yet succeed Mr Varadkar as taoiseach, has begun sounding out potential coalition partners among the Greens, centre-left, hard-left and independents, who between them have 50 seats.

The smaller parties say they are open to talks, but diverse and conflicting policy positions will make it difficult to reach agreement.

Sinn Féin, which campaigned on Ireland’s homelessness crisis and failings in healthcare, has proposed a large increase in public spending funded by tax increases on businesses and the wealthy. It also wants a big expansion of public housing, a rent freeze and interventions in the banking system to cap mortgage rates.

“Parliamentary arithmetic suggests initial attempts to form a left-leaning government are doomed to fail,” said Davy, the Dublin stockbroker.

The numbers have led to speculation Ms McDonald could eventually seek talks with Fianna Fáil, an option she does not favour.

Fianna Fáil is divided on whether to consider a coalition with Sinn Féin, which was the political wing of the IRA during its violent campaign to force Britain from Northern Ireland before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Some Fianna Fáil MPs have ruled out reversing the party’s longstanding rejection of a partnership with the nationalists because of economic policy differences and lingering concerns about its IRA links.

But Micheál Martin, Fianna Fáil’s leader — a strident critic of Sinn Féin during the election campaign — has left the door open, saying at the weekend that, “I respect the decision of the people”.

Fine Gael has been more definitive in rejecting a coalition with Sinn Féin. “A forced marriage would not result in a good government,” Mr Varadkar said on Sunday.

The post Sinn Féin hunts for leftwing allies in bid to lead government appeared first on Financial Times.

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Author: Financial Times