Daniel McConnell: Reality bites for Sinn Féin in coalition talks

Daniel McConnell: Reality bites for Sinn Féin in coalition talks

After days of ridiculous claims that a left-wing coalition was possible, Sinn Féin has finally re-entered the real world, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.

Finally, after five days of charades and gameplaying, some clarity and reality has entered the picture as to how a new Government will be formed.

Since the final seats of the 33rd Dáil were filled, a big lie has been circulated that Sinn Féin won the election.

Mary Lou McDonald has declared it, some slavish members of the media have declared it — even some within Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil said it.

The only problem is, it’s not true.

While Sinn Féin has increased its vote and its seat total and got more votes than all other parties, on 25% of all votes cast, it most certainly did not win the popular vote.

Having been humiliated into third place, Fine Gael would deeply love to run into opposition, and the bruised Blueshirts are more than happy to slow the pace of talks down and allow Mary Lou try and fail.

After days of ridiculous claims that a left-wing coalition was possible, Sinn Féin has finally re-entered the real world.

Friday began with a leading Sinn Féin TD admitting his party cannot form a stable Government without either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

However, Eoin Ó Broin accused both of the old ‘Big Two’ parties of “arrogance” and “recklessness” for refusing to talk to Mary Lou McDonald about a coalition.

Ó Broin, one of Sinn Féin’s Government formation negotiators, said Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is doing the “most irresponsible thing” by snubbing Sinn Féin’s voters. He also suggested that a new grand coalition Government that was rejected at the ballot box.

Asked on RTÉ’s Radio as to how Sinn Féin can form a Government without either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, Ó Broin conceded bluntly: “You can’t.”

“The most irresponsible thing to do is what Micheal Martin has said — to say he won’t talk to a party that now represents 24% of the electorate.

“He’s talking about putting back in power the Government that has just been booted out of power and he is threatening another election at a time when the public want politicians to do their job, form a Government for change, and start fixing the problems that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael created through four years of bad government.”

Ó Broin said political parties refusing to talk to others and who are “threatening” elections “don’t just smack of arrogance, but I actually think there is a certain recklessness.”

Ó Broin did not have to wait long for a response.

Fine Gael TD Heather Humphreys said “there is no point” talking to Sinn Féin, as the parties wouldn’t be able to agree a programme for government.

Election 2020 Results Summary

Seats by party

  • Party
  • % 1st Pref
  • Seats
  • FF 22.18% 38
  • SF 24.53% 37
  • FG 20.86% 35
  • IO 15.39% 21
  • GP 7.13% 12
  • LAB 4.38% 6
  • SD 2.90% 6
  • SPBP 2.63% 5
160 of 160 seats filled
39 of 39 constituencies complete

The policies of both parties are “absolutely miles apart. It is up to those who won the election to form a Government and, in this case, Sinn Féin won the popular vote and Fianna Fáil won the most seats,” Humphreys said.

Crucially, when pressed, the business minister declined to rule out going into Government with Fianna Fáil ahead of her party’s parliamentary meeting on Monday.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary said his party leader Micheál Martin would meet Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald but was “very clear” that they would not go into a coalition together.

The Mayo TD said the policy issues “are too incompatible” between the two parties.

“There are too many bridges,” he added.

On the issue of a deal with the old enemy, Calleary said Fianna Fáil will make an approach to Fine Gael “at some stage”, adding that the outgoing Government party has yet to meet as a parliamentary party.

In the meantime, Fianna Fáil is establishing its negotiating team and “reaching out to other like-minded parties”, he said.

Despite the lies and gameplaying, it has been perfectly clear that for a Government to be formed, two of the three largest blocks — Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, and Fianna Fáil — would have to come together and agree a deal.

With both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil clearly now ruling out a deal with Sinn Féin, logic dictates that those two parties have to either examine a reverse confidence and supply arrangement, or examine the idea of the grand coalition, perhaps with the Greens involved.

Well, as we reported today, Fine Gael senior figures are absolutely ruling out any notion of supporting or facilitating Fianna Fáil from the opposition benches.

Fianna Fáil calls for Fine Gael to support it in Government from the opposition benches have been dismissed as “arrogant” and “unworkable”.

Senior figures in Fine Gael told us that reversing the confidence and supply deal and facilitating a Fianna Fáil-led Government from opposition is “a non-runner”.

Fine Gael ministerial sources hit back to calls for them to consider paying back the deal agreed to in 2016.

“It won’t work,” said one senior figure. “Not happening, we couldn’t be clearer. It would also mean Sinn Féin would be the lead opposition party. Fianna Fáil would want to drop the arrogance, or this is going nowhere.” Humphreys was also pretty clear. “The public gave its verdict on confidence and supply. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both lost seats,” she said.

So as the options narrow, it becomes clear that the so-called ‘super grand coalition’ of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens is the best and most viable option in terms of sorting the Dáil numbers conundrum.

With 80 seats needed for a majority, such a three-way arrangement gets you to 85, and if you add a few gene pool independents for security, a stable Government emerges.

Neasa Hourigan celebrates with her family after being elected as a Green Party TD in Dublin Central. The party’s finance spokesperson made it clear that the Greens’ inclusion in a coalition Government cannot be taken for granted, as many appear to be doing. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Neasa Hourigan celebrates with her family after being elected as a Green Party TD in Dublin Central. The party’s finance spokesperson made it clear that the Greens’ inclusion in a coalition Government cannot be taken for granted, as many appear to be doing. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

I was on RTÉ Radio late on Thursday night with new Green TD Neasa Hourigan, the party’s finance spokesperson. She made it clear that her party’s inclusion in Government cannot be taken for granted, as many appear to be doing.

She insisted her party will only commit if a complex set of priorities are agreed along with detailed implementation plans. She also made it clear that her party faces significant resistance from within their base to any deal with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, or Sinn Féin.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are happy to sit back and let Mary Lou McDonald try and fail in her bid before they get serious.

While both parties can see the benefit of being in opposition, they know if a second general election is to be avoided, they will not have that luxury.

The people voted for change. Perhaps we might actually get the change a large majority voted for.

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