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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 6°C

What are the possible coalition options for the next government?

No one party has enough seats to do it alone – so who is prepared to pair up?

THE ELECTION MIGHT be over, but it looks like it will be some time before there is real clarity on who will make up the next government.

Fine Gael have continued to rule out going into government with Sinn Féin. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin appears to be considering it, despite having stated definitively during the campaign that it wasn’t an option.

And smaller parties like the Greens, Social Democrats and Labour said ahead of the election that they would be willing to talk to anyone about the possibility of forming a government.

No one party will have enough TDs (they need 80) to hold a majority in the Dáil.

So what are the options?

Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael

Quite early on in the campaign, Leo Varadkar said his party would be willing to prop up a Fianna Fáil-led government from the opposition benches with a confidence and supply agreement.

Remember Fianna Fáil supported Fine Gael’s minority government (which included some independent TDS) in the last government with a C&S agreement. 

The two parties were also adamant that Sinn Féin should not be part of the next government.

Forming a grand coalition combining their numbers might be the only way to keep Sinn Féin out of government.

But, even if they did this, they would still only reach 73 seats and would need one smaller party – remember the Green Party has 12 TDs – or a combination of a small party (like the Social Democrats, which has six seats) and some independents to get them over the line. 

And, if these two parties form a government, not only would they be appearing to dismiss the electorate’s demand for “change”, they would also reinforce the idea that there is no difference between them. 

Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin

This option, which would bring together Fianna Fáil’s 38 seats and Sinn Féin’s 37, is the one everyone has been talking about since the first indications of Sinn Féin’s success.

Although some Fianna Fáil TDs have continued to state their party will not enter into a coalition with Mary Lou McDonald’s party, their leader Micheál Martin has softened his language around it in recent days.

On Sunday, when asked about the possibility, he told reporters he was “a democrat” who listens to the people. 

McDonald has also said she is willing to talk to all parties about government formation and yesterday said she was glad Martin had “come to his senses”. 

If you do the maths, again the numbers are not there. But if the Green Party, for example, comes on board as well, they’d bring their collective number to 87.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has said he is open to coalition talks, but he will also be well aware of the risks for his party, which was decimated after it entered into a coalition with Fianna Fáil in 2007. 

This would be the best option for the two bigger parties and at the moment it looks like the most likely outcome. 

Without the Greens the only other solution would be a combination of smaller parties like Labour or the Social Democrats and some independents. It would make for much more complicated talks, with everyone vying for a prominent Cabinet position. 

Fine Gael/Sinn Féin

There’s no such thing as certainty in politics but it is probably safe to say this coalition is not going to happen. 

Even if Fine Gael TDs were keen on it – they have all stated categorically that they are not – the two parties together still would not have the numbers and would be relying on smaller parties and independents.

Fianna Fáil/Green Party/Labour/Social Democrats/independents

If Fianna Fáil wants to keep Sinn Féin and Fine Gael off the government benches, the party would have to bring in the Greens, Labour and the Social Democrats. 

But at a combined 62 seats, this still isn’t enough. In fact, they would need every independent TD who was elected to join as well – and this is extremely unlikely.

If they managed to get the rural independent technical group, with TDs like Michael Collins, Michael and Danny Healy-Raes, Noel Grealish and Peter Fitzpatrick on board, the rainbow government would need a confidence and supply agreement with either Fine Gael or Sinn Féin.

A messy option that no one wants to be a part of.

A left-wing government

Yesterday McDonald said her first preference for a government would be one without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

She has already started contacting the leaders of the Green Party, Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit. Others like Independents4Change TD Joan Collins could possibly also be persuaded. 

While it is an attractive option for many of those parties, with 66 TDs in total, the numbers are not there, and they would need a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.  

If, over the coming days and weeks, none of the parties and other TDs can agree on a stable formation, it may be back to the polls for voters again. And then it would be all to play for.

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