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'Fine Fáil' and 6 other things you need to know about this election

As the seats fill up, attention turns to what happens next.

WITH MOST OF the 158 seats in the 32nd Dáil now filled attention is starting to turn to what happens next.

As one observer put it yesterday: the electorate have spoken, but what the hell have they said? What does it mean for the parties and the personalities?

As we head into the second day of counting in constituencies across the country, here’s what you need to know.

1. It’s probably ‘Fine Fáil’ or we go again 

A handful of seats are likely to separate the two big parties – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – when it’s all done and dusted and, on current numbers, it looks to be the only viable coalition government. The big question is of course whether a deal can be done. If it can’t, a second election looks likely.

The grassroots of Fianna Fáil don’t seem all that keen and they will ultimately have the casting vote on this. It differs among members across the country, but certainly the overwhelming view of those we spoke to in the RDS in Dublin yesterday was that they would not stand for it. Going to the country pledging to get the government out and then reinstating Enda Kenny as Taoiseach would be anathema to a lot of Fianna Fáil people.

Fine Gael may have other ideas. The way the Taoiseach spoke in Castlebar last night he gave the impression of a man who believes it is incumbent upon him to form a government. Both sides seem to acknowledge the need to talk. Doing a deal will be another thing. If it does happen expect it to take weeks or months.

One thing now seems clear, when the Dáil returns on 10 March no Taoiseach will be elected and no government will be formed. A temporary administration – ministers remain ministers after all – will probably see us through St Patrick’s Day and Easter.

2. Enda under pressure  

Another certainty is that Enda Kenny’s time as Fine Gael leader appears to be drawing to a close. The question is when exactly he will go. Deputies all over the country have publicly backed their leader when asked this weekend. But privately many feel his position is untenable given the amount of seats lost.

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Kenny remains Taoiseach and will do until a new government is formed but it’s hard to see him lasting even if a deal is done with Fianna Fáil. The pressure from within the party will be for a new direction after 14 long years under the same leader. The succession plan that the Taoiseach might have had in mind is now gone and, as a result, Frances Fitzgerald is less likely to be the next leader. Step forward Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

3. Sinn Féin will go into opposition – and reckon we’ll go again

Sinn Féin had a good election although it didn’t all go the party’s way. It was a big surprise that it didn’t take a seat in Dublin West. Sinn Féin sources expect that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will form the next government, but they’re also working on the basis that there will be a second election this year – something everyone should be considering.

This has always been a long-term project for a party which knows it will take one or two more elections to be in a position to lead a government. If Sinn Féin doubles or comes close to doubling its 14 seats it will consider it a fantastic election this time around. The leadership of Gerry Adams seems untroubled for now.

4. Labour regroups 

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Source: RollingNews.ie

At one stage yesterday it looked as if Labour might come back with less than seven seats meaning it would lose speaking rights in the Dáil. Party sources still hold out the possibility it could win as many as nine but everything would have to go its way. The election of junior minister Seán Sherlock in Cork East and minister Jan O’Sullivan in Limerick were welcome surprises on an otherwise dreadful day.

Questions remain as to whether Alan Kelly will hold his seat in Tipperary but the party is expecting him to hold on. So beleaguered is Labour there doesn’t, currently, appear to be a huge appetite to replace Joan Burton, but that may change in the coming days.

5. Renua dead and buried? 

Leader Lucinda Creighton was eliminated late last night and the party will only win one seat at most with deputy leader Billy Timmins hanging on Wicklow. That begs the question as to the viability of a party whose leader was its standout personality.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Source: Leah Farrell

Timmins had contemplated a return to Fine Gael for some months after he left the party over the abortion issue three years ago, before throwing his lot in with Renua. It can’t be ruled that he would return to his former party in which case it makes it hard to imagine Renua continuing to exist.

6. SocDem disappointment 

There was much talk of the SocDems’ success yesterday as its three party leaders topped the polls in their respective constituencies. But it failed to take a seat anywhere else with Gary Gannon going agonisingly close, but not close enough, in Dublin Central.

Effectively, despite all the buzz during the campaign, the party is exactly where it was before Friday. It remains viable but the best thing that might happen for the SocDems is a second election within the next year.

7. Independents and all the others

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Source: RollingNews.ie

A large number of diverse independent TDs will grace the 32nd Dáil with many of those elected in 2011 hanging on, including Maureen O’Sullivan, who had a stunning comeback. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran in Longford-Westmeath and Seán Canney in Galway East will make up the Independent Alliance which appears close to gaining speaking rights.

But that diversity is underlined by the fact that the constituency-focused Healy-Rae brothers will be sitting in the same section of the Dáil as the likes of Katherine Zappone, who has a more national focus.

Liveblog: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil neck-and-neck as count continues

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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