Daniel McConnell: 'That didn't take long did it?' - Micheal Martin doesn't rule out SF talks

Daniel McConnell: 'That didn't take long did it?' - Micheal Martin doesn't rule out SF talks
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin arriving at the count centre in Cork. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

It didn't take long, did it?

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hadn't stepped into the count centre in Cork South-Central when he announced a reversal in policy.

For years, not just the three weeks of the campaign, but for years, Martin has been consistent in his stance that he would not be going into government with Sinn Féin.

Even in the face of mounting opposition from within his own party, time and time again Martin dug his heels in and insisted he was not for turning.

But not today. Confronted with a disappointing result for his party, Martin had no choice but to change his tune.

Flanked by reporters Martin did not rule out going into coalition with either Sinn Féin or Fine Gael.

Trying to contain the brassneckery of it all, he said the most important thing is that there is compatibility in the programme for government and over the next few days people will assess the situation.

He said as leader, he has heard the people speak and he respects that.

"We will obviously listen. The people have spoken and there is no greater democrat than I, but that said we will not pre-empt the outcome itself because it's very clear to us that the destination of the final seats in many constituencies cannot be called now,” he said.

“I am making the point there is serious incompatibility between ourselves and Sinn Fein. But what is important, is that the country comes first. There is an onus on all that a functioning Government is formed,” he told reporters.

In reality, what choice did he have?

Several leading members of his party, including Robert Troy and John McGuinness, said the party must be open to discussions with Sinn Féin.

Martin correctly stated that Election 2020 it is an unusual event, with a lot of volatility, adding that some people who could not get elected in the local elections are topping the poll in some instances.

Obviously as soon as he said it, much was being made of his comments.

Was this a u-turn? Was this an attempt to stay relevant?

Was it shameless chicanery by a man who is angling to become Taoiseach?

In truth, a bit of all of them.

Behind the scenes, caution was being urged as to the full meaning of what Martin was saying, and particularly to conclusions being drawn prematurely when most of the Dáil seats had not yet been filled.

Whatever way you looked at the outcome, the big winners here were Mary Lou McDonald and her Sinn Féin party.

Less than nine months after she walked into the RDS after a bruising encounter, today she arrived as the conquering hero, mobbed by media and supporters alike.

She made clear that Sinn Féin had already started discussions to form a new Government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

She said the two other major parties, which up until this point have ruled out doing a deal with Sinn Féin, are "in a state of denial" and are still not listening to the public.She said Saturday's poll represented significant change and she will now be working to form a Government.

"I want us to have ideally a Government with no Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in it. I have started the contact with other parties to explore over the next few days whether or not that is a possibility."We've been in touch with the Greens, with the Social Democrats with People Before Profit and there are others. Like I said throughout the campaign, and I meant it when I said it, we need change we need a new government, the best outcome is a government without Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil so that's the first thing that I want to test whether or not that is possible.

"I also have consistently said that I will talk to and listen to everybody. I think that's what grown-ups do. I think that's what democracy demands."

Hitting out at Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar who have both repeatedly ruled out going into power with Sinn Féin, she said: "I do not accept the exclusion or talk of excluding our party - a party that represents almost a quarter of the electorate, I think this is fundamentally undemocratic."

McDonald who comfortably topped the poll in Dublin Central added: "The extraordinary thing is that it seems that the political establishment, and by that I mean Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, are still in a state of denial, and they're still not listening to what the people have said and I want us to have a government for the people."

Whatever about such attempts to form a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, in truth the numbers make such an arrangement unworkable, so ultimately Sinn Féin could be the kingmakers, if another election is to be avoided.

Poll topper Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire of Sinn Féin is shouldered in celebration at the Cork South Central Count Centre at Nemo Rangers GAA Club in Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Poll topper Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire of Sinn Féin is shouldered in celebration at the Cork South Central Count Centre at Nemo Rangers GAA Club in Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

As good a day it was for Sinn Féin, the party failed to spot the swing and did not run enough candidates with several large surpluses going to waste, including in McDonald's back yard of Dublin Central.

For Fine Gael, ministers throughout the day were maintaining they would not do any deals with Sinn Féin, but it is expected that line will have to change.

After a bruising and difficult campaign, the party is clearly relieved to still be in the mix.

Just 48 hours before polling, the party was in full-on crisis mode and letters of desperation were being distributed by some of its heaviest hitters including Paschal Donohoe.

While the result is not as bad as feared at one point for Leo Varadkar, it is still a dreadful result for a man who promised to deliver Fine Gael to the promised land of a third term in government.

Some of the party's leading lights like Regina Doherty and Kate O'Connell will not be returning.

As the 160 seats of the 33rd Dáil fill up today and tomorrow, attention will now turn to how a government can be formed. Predicting that outcome is another matter altogether.

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