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What are the coalition options for the next government, and what are the leaders' stances?

For the first time ever, combined Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seats may not make up a Dáil majority.

Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald ahead of the RTÉ Prime Time debate last week.
Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald ahead of the RTÉ Prime Time debate last week.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

ALMOST HALF OF the 159 available seats in the 33rd Dáil have been filled following Saturday’s general election.

Counting is complete in 13 of 39 constituencies and the remaining 26 counts will resume this morning.

The story of the election so far has been the Sinn Féin surge – the party has won the highest percentage of first preference votes and has secured 29 seats to date.

It looks as though most of the party’s 42 candidates will get elected, but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are both running nearly twice as many candidates.

The focus has now turned to seat projections and possible government formations – could there be a coalition between two of the three biggest parties, most likely backed by independents and/or smaller parties, or a Sinn Féin-led government, for example? 

Adrian Kavanagh, an election guru and lecturer at Maynooth University, and Dr Kevin Cunningham, a pollster and UCD lecturer, have crunched the numbers and both are predicting Fianna Fáil will win the largest number of seats.

Kavanagh has estimated that Fianna Fáil will win 41 seats, Sinn Féin will win 37, Fine Gael will win 36 and independents will win 19.

UCD’s seat projection puts the top three parties in the same order but believes Fianna Fáil will win 45 seats, Sinn Féin 37, Fine Gael 36, and independents will secure 16 seats.

There is much speculation about which parties could join forces to form a new government.

Before the election Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael repeatedly said they would not enter a coalition with Sinn Féin. However, that stance may change given Sinn Féin’s unprecedented surge in popularity.

Kavanagh has put together a list of possible coalition options based on his seat projections. Eighty seats are needed for a Dáil majority and, for the first time ever, combined Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seats may not reach this number.

Potential coalition options, based off his seat projections, include:

  • Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil: 77 seats
  • Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin: 78 seats
  • Fine Gael-Sinn Fein: 73 seats
  • Fianna Fáil-Green Party-Labour-Social Democrats: 65 seats
  • Fianna Fáil-Green Party-Labour-Social Democrats-”Rural” Independents: 75 seats
  • Fine Gael-Green Party-Labour-Social Democrats: 60 seats
  • Left Wing Parties/Candidates Only Government: 68 seats

Some of the above options could of course be backed by other independent TDs. If a majority is not reached, there might be another confidence and supply agreement which would facilitate a minority government.

So, what are the party leaders saying?

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald reiterated that her preference is for a government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

However, she said she will speak to every party and independents about government formation.

‘Everybody outside the old two’ 

McDonald said Sinn Féin has already been in touch with the Green Party, the Social Democrats and Solidarity-People Before Profit, and will also talk to independents and Labour, “everybody outside the old two”, to establish “whether or not there are the numbers to deliver a government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael”.

McDonald added: “Of course I’ll talk to Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar and I think the democratic thing is for them to speak to me too. I’ll speak to everyone because that’s what grown-up people do.”

She said she expects Sinn Féin to get more than 30 seats and said, in hindsight, the party should have run more candidates.

Hindsight is a great thing, of course we should have fielded more candidates (had we known how well we would do). Certainly if I were a political clairvoyant, of course we would have run more candidates.

McDonald said the election results show “the old politics of the two-party system is now gone and over, a thing of the past”.

“This vote for Sinn Féin is for Sinn Féin to be in government, for Sinn Féin to make a difference, for Sinn Féin to be tested, for Sinn Féin to deliver,” she added.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday appeared to somewhat soften his stance on going into government with Sinn Féin, having repeatedly ruled out such an option during the campaign.

Martin yesterday said there are “significant issues to be resolved” but refused to rule out a coalition with Sinn Féin.

“We’ll assess it when the full count is in and the full number of seats are in. I’m a democrat. I listen to the people, I respect the decision of the people,” he told RTÉ.

‘Glad he has come to his senses’ 

Speaking this morning, McDonald said she is “very glad that Micheál Martin has it seems come to his senses”, adding that it was “never a sustainable position” to exclude Sinn Féin as the party represents so many people.

However, outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appears less open to talks with Sinn Féin. Speaking at the RDS count centre yesterday he said Fine Gael will not change its mind about not wanting to form a coalition with Sinn Féin.

“It seems that we have now a three-party system, three parties all getting roughly the same number of votes, roughly the same number of seats and that is going to make forming a government quite difficult,” Varadkar said.

“Indeed it’s not even clear yet whether any of the two parties together will have enough to form a majority in the next Dáil.”

Varadkar said he had made his party’s position about a coalition with Sinn Féin “very clear” during the campaign and that Fine Gael had won votes on that basis. “My position hasn’t changed,” he added.

Paschal Donohoe, outgoing Finance Minister and Fine Gael’s director of elections, reiterated this stance on Morning Ireland today.

He said that while there will likely be “some form of engagement” with every party about government formation, as there is after most elections, “the position of our party is that we will not be going into government with Sinn Féin”.

Donohoe described Sinn Féin’s success in the election as “a remarkable achievement” but added it is “very early in the process” to say what the future government will look like.

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Órla Ryan

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