'If we have to move into opposition, so be it': Senior Fine Gael figures rule out Sinn Féin coalition

The Tanaiste has ruled out holding any discussions with Sinn Fein on the formation of a government.

'If we have to move into opposition, so be it':  Senior Fine Gael figures rule out Sinn Féin coalition

Additional reporting by Juno McEnroe and Press Association

The Tanaiste has ruled out holding any discussions with Sinn Fein on the formation of a government.

While Simon Coveney said a lot of counting remains to be done, and Sinn Fein has done very well, he said the Fine Gael position in relation to Sinn Fein was very clear during the election campaign.

"And I think people voted for us on that basis and we're not going to be changing our position," he said.

Mr Coveney was speaking as he arrived at the Cork city count centre in Nemo Rangers GAA Club in the last few minutes.

The fifth count has just be declared and Micheal Martin, Mr Coveney and Micheal McGrath have yet to be elected.

Mr Coveney said his party's position, which they made "very, very, clear during the election campaign" will not be changing.

"Fine Gael will not be going into government with Sinn Fein," he said.

He said Sinn Fein has a significant mandate - a vote which his party respects.

"But that's a different thing to trying to put a government together that can last, that's comparable that can make decisions for the county in a coherent way," he said.

"I've said many times that I just don't believe that the policy platforms Sinn Fein are outlining and the approach and policies that Fine Gael have committed to are compatible."

He also pointed to how the Taoiseach has described a partnership between the two as a "marriage that would be forced".

Mr Coveney added: “We’ve never ruled out Fianna Fail, the Taoiseach has been clear on that and I think I’ve been clear on it for a number of years, the country needs a government.

“Fine Gael is going work towards the creation of a government, and if we have to move into opposition, so be it.

“Of course would be open to talk to Fianna Fail, and any other parties that believe they’re compatible with Fine Gael in terms of forming a balanced stable government that can protect the country’s interests.”

Mr Coveney said the country has stated that they want a change in the polls.

“They were restless, the electorate were restless,” he said.

“There wasn’t so much an anger, it was more a willingness to vote for something quite different. And we see the result.”

Mr Coveney said: “Fine Gael will focus on trying to put a coalition together, that can take on those challenges and respond to people’s concerns, and if it doesn’t work out well then we’ll go into opposition.

“I mean the one thing I would say is that, I think in the aftermath of this election, the likelihood of our confidence and supply type arrangements, I think is very unlikely.

“I think Ireland needs a government that has the majority, that can make decisions, that can make things happen quickly and responding to what the electorate are looking for from government.

“And so, certainly, my perspective, is that Fine Gael again, it will either play a constructive role in government, helping to put a coalition together that can work with country, or we will be a very active party in opposition.”

Paschal Donohoe at the RDS count Centre Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Paschal Donohoe at the RDS count Centre Dublin. Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

Meanwhile, other senior Fine Gael figures have tonight firmly closed the door on working with Sinn Féin in government with the party also on track to lose up to 15 seats.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said that it was too early to assess Fine Gael's performance in the general election but that almost 450,000 people had voted for his party.

He said:

“Our anticipation of the Fine Gael performance is that it will be between the mid to high 30s, that is our expectation at the moment. But if the ball bounces in a few ways in a couple of constituencies, it could go beyond that. But it is very early to say, and it's far too early to form a view as to what our actual performance will be.”

Mr Donohoe firmly ruled out working with Sinn Fein in government, despite the fact the latter could potentially exceed his party in terms of support and Dail seats.

Asked about any chance of a coalition between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, he answered:

“There's absolutely no change no change in that stance for Fine Gael.”

He said that the coming weeks would be very “demanding and very complex”.

However, with the prospect of the party's Dail numbers falling to the mid 30s, as the minister said, there will be casualties and there were a number of indications last night as to who would lose out on seats. Fine Gael originally elected 50 people to the Dail in 2016.

Outgoing TDs Noel Rock and Kate O'Connell were the first casualties in Dublin constituencies, with the former telling the Irish Examiner that his party needed to do an analysis on how it could connect more with the working class.

Elsewhere, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty looked to be struggling to hold onto her seat in Meath East.

However, there were some positives for Fine Gael with the party expected to hold its seat in Cork North Central with the election of Colm Burke while both Health Minister Simon Harris and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy looked set to be re-elected in their respective constituencies of Wicklow and Dublin Bay South.

Mr Murphy insisted during media interviews yesterday that the government's housing plan was starting to work, with a slow down in rent increases and house prices.

Elsewhere, Fine Gael’s Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring came out on top after the first count in Co Mayo and was elected to the Dáil with 14,796 votes.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also said earlier in the night that his party's position on working with Sinn Fein had not changed.

"Nobody can be forced into some sort of forced marriage or forced coalition," he added.

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