Juno McEnroe: D-day for Fianna Fáil who want to form a government without Sinn Féin

Juno McEnroe: D-day for Fianna Fáil who want to form a government without Sinn Féin

Shortly before midday, cars began slowly inching their way through the grounds of Leinster House.

Some had candidate's names and faces still plastered on them after the election. Boxes were quickly and excitedly carried out of some, while others had more forlorn figures filling their boots.

It was D-day for Fianna Fáil and time to assess its election woes. There were those arriving as newly elected Teachta Dala and others emptying their offices after losing their seats.

A bizarre sight, as handshakes, congratulations and commiserations were all exchanged in the car park.

Just after noon, party leader Micheál Martin took to his feet in a packed room. It was time to decide.

For days since the shock election - which resulted in a huge surge for Sinn Féin and has already taken out one party leader - there had been speculation about what Fianna Fáil wanted to do.Martin didn't prevaricate.

After welcoming the newest parliamentary members, he told the attentive crowd that it had been a bad election for Fianna Fáil.

But he stood by his election strategy even though multiple candidates in some tickets had resulted in losses.

The key message was then delivered: Martin wants to form a government - but without Sinn Féin.

This wasn't of huge surprise, given the red line commitments made by Martin and his senior party lieutenants during the election campaign. No Sinn Féin.

So there it was in black and white for the new and returning TDs. Martin spoke to his party for 25 minutes, before others contributed in what turned into a four-hour meeting.

He said it was right for Fianna Fáil to step up to the plate and “do the right thing for the country,” explained a party source.

But he warned that Sinn Féin would “wreck the country” if in power and “scare” enterprise and businesses away.

So Fianna Fáil wants to go into power. But at what price?

Those arriving and leaving the Leinster House meeting referenced “shadowboxing” and the fact that weeks of this can be expected from all political sides now.

“The country needs a dose of Sinn Fein,” quipped one TD, referring to the fact Fianna Fáil will let Mary Lou McDonald and her party try their hand at government - even if it doesn't work.

Juno McEnroe: D-day for Fianna Fáil who want to form a government without Sinn Féin

But several said there was a need to “hold the line”.

“It is a case of humpty dumpty,” said a new TD, explaining that the party would need to get back up and recover from its election hammering.

While no specific coalition options were detailed by Martin or others at the party meeting, there is a feeling now that conversations will have to be had with Fine Gael about the potential for a type of super-grand coalition, involving the two.

This is despite the fact Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the leader of Fine Gael, has said he expects to be in opposition.

Above all though, there is an acute awareness of the dangers that lie ahead for Martin's party no matter whether it takes the route to power or even into opposition.

“It is like we are at a roundabout and every exit leads to a cul-de-sac,” explained one TD.

And this is exactly it. Sharing power with Fine Gael would keep Sinn Féin from Government Buildings but inevitably see its support surge even more in opposition.

On the other hand, a coalition with Sinn Féin would see Martin and some of his senior party figures eviscerated at the next election, for promising otherwise.

Sinn Fein Leader, Mary Lou McDonald speaks to the media as the newest members of the Sinn Fein Parliamentary Party meet for the first time at Leinster House in Dublin. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Sinn Fein Leader, Mary Lou McDonald speaks to the media as the newest members of the Sinn Fein Parliamentary Party meet for the first time at Leinster House in Dublin. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

And going into opposition, even as a supporter of a minority Sinn Féin-led government, could see Mary Lou McDonald's party take the spoils from the outgoing Fine Gael-led government and potentially have a successful term if it could solve issues such as housing.

For the moment, Martin has been given a mandate by his party to go and try to cobble together a government.

All options are risky, most obviously a need to return to the electorate if there is a hung Dáil and a government cannot be formed.

Fianna Fáil has been badly wounded, but not fatally. It has lost TDs, but gained fresh blood and still has its eye on government.

Martin's leadership is safe, for the moment. Let the post-election political jousting begin.

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