Sinn Féin has disrupted Ireland’s centrist tradition by taking almost a quarter of votes during the 2020 elections. Now, Sinn Féin will to try to form a ruling coalition after Irish election success.
The party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, told cheering supporters on Sunday that a “revolution” had occurred and she would try to form a ruling coalition with other parties. “This is no longer a two-party system, she said.
Sinn Féin, once a pariah for its IRA liberation links, won almost a quarter of first-preference votes, possibly pipping Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, two centrist rivals that have taken turns ruling Ireland for a century.
It rode a wave of anger over homelessness, soaring rents and hospital waiting lists as well as disillusionment with the traditional political duopoly.
McDonald, speaking over rapturous, deafening chants at a Dublin count center, said she had spoken to the Greens and small leftwing parties in hope of forming a coalition without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. A deadlock could lead to another election.
She did not rule out a deal with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. However, parliamentary arithmetic may exclude Sinn Féin from power.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ran more candidates and are expected to each win more seats than Sinn Féin in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament’s lower chamber, leaving unclear which parties – if any – will be able to form a viable coalition.
During the campaign Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, and Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, both ruled out entering government with Sinn Féin, citing ethical and policy reasons.
On Sunday evening, Varadkar told journalists in Dublin: “For us, coalition with Sinn Fein is not an option, but we are willing to talk to other parties.”
Varadkar, Ireland’s first gay taoiseach, had hoped a healthy economy and his record on Brexit would deliver a third term for Fine Gael, but he encountered voter fatigue and anger over the cost of living and state of public services.
With 96% of first-preference votes tallied on Sunday, Sinn Féin had 24.1%, with Fianna Fáil on 22.1%, Fine Gael on 22.1%, Greens on 7.4%, and small left wing parties and independents comprising the rest (24.3%).
It was a stunning result for Sinn Féin, which was the IRA’s political wing during the Troubles and remained a fringe party in the republic until well after the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
Many candidates ratcheted up huge surpluses in urban heartlands while others appeared on course for unexpected victories in Galway, Tipperary, Roscommon, Mayo and Wexford.
The former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte said a tectonic shift had killed the old system of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael alternating in power with Labour or other small, establishment parties.
The commentator Fintan O’Toole wrote in the Irish Times that young voters had shattered the taboo of backing a party associated with terrorism.
“They have gone where they were warned not to go and in doing so they have redrawn the map of Irish politics to include territory previously marked ‘here be dragons’.”
The Guardian / ABC Flash Point Election News 2020.