A virtual tie in the Irish election leads to uncertainty

Harvey Carlin | Student Writer

Voters went to the polls to voice their frustration, but what comes next is unclear.

Sinn Féin’s poor local elections results in 2019 have had more of an impact on the future of Irish politics than could have ever been imagined. The rough night that they experienced impacted the republican party’s decision to field a mere 42 candidates in February’s General Election. This lack of candidates has stopped them from being able to fully enjoy the fruits of their success. By winning the popular vote with 25%, to Fianna Fáil’s 22%, they have achieved the breakthrough that many on the Irish left had been yearning for. However, they have been consigned to one less seat than Micheál Martin’s party who won 38, and only two more than Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s, Fine Gael with 35, despite winning 4% more votes.

Before the election, both major parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had ruled out entering into any coalition with Sinn Féin. They cited the party’s violent past and their tax policies. In the days after the election, Varadkar has maintained this position, while Martin, perhaps tempted by his proximity to power, has appeared to mildly backtrack on the position. Nevertheless, it still seems unlikely that he would be able to bring his party along with the idea.

The two options besides working with Sinn Féin are – as is the case now – Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael working together. However, this would probably require some humble pie for Fine Gael who would need to switch from the governing party in this arrangement to the supportive one. This would likely require an informal agreement with Fine Gael taking up the role as the opposition party, as ceding this to Sinn Féin, many fear would allow them an official platform to denounce the government and perhaps cater for a stronger showing at the next election. Despite being in opposition, Fine Gael would be expected to support the government on key votes. The other option would be a Fianna Fáil rainbow coalition with Irish Labour, the Greens, and some other smaller left-wing parties. It remains to be seen which of these would be most palatable to those around the negotiating table.

Another election is not out of the question, and it should be noted Sinn Féin has already spoken of attempting to form a government themselves. However, this remains unlikely. Moving forward, what is clear is that the Irish people have a hunger for political change. Questions regarding the viability of the continued running of Ireland as a low-tax economy, and the national question of Irish unity may now be formally addressed. Which is exciting for many who feel the governing duopoly has historically silenced certain debates. However, the one thing that is certain now is more uncertainty.

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