Just how is a Government going to be formed?
The Sinn Féin tsunami and the dreadful underperformance of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil means the job of forming a workable Government is immensely challenging to say the least.
With the numbers in the 33rd Dáil increasing from 158 to 160, the magic number to reach a majority is 80.
Following the pattern across Europe in recent decades, no one party is in a position to form a majority Government, so, at best, we are looking at some form of coalition.
With the 160 seats of the 33rd Dáil all but filled, a number of possible scenarios now present themselves — but all are fraught with difficulty.
Even before she herself was elected on Sunday, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald was reaching out to see if a coalition without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil was possible, such was the strength of the Sinn Féin surge.
But she has also left the door open to speaking to Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin.
So which options are realistic, and which ones are dead in the water? Let’s take a look:
Scenario 1 — A coalition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin
Having ruled out any kind of deal with Sinn Féin, both Micheál Martin and his deputy leader Dara Calleary have moved significantly to open the door to talks now taking place.
On one level, such a coalition appears viable as it gets you to or very near to that 80-seat marker.
Both republican parties, there are many within both camps who would be happy to do a deal.
Yet, there are also plenty in Fianna Fáil, like Jim O’Callaghan and Michael McGrath, who are diametrically opposed to any deal with McDonald’s party.
For Martin, the temptation to do a deal is real, as this is his last chance to be Taoiseach and he is under pressure. Just because the numbers work doesn’t mean it can succeed in terms of policy or agreeing a programme for government.
Notwithstanding the rhetoric and the personality issues, this remains the most viable option especially if the Green Party get added in as a buffer.
Scenario 2: Reverse Confidence and Supply
In the national interest, they said, in 2016 Fianna Fáil agreed to facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority Government to avoid a second general election being called.
All through the campaign, Varadkar made clear that, as a last resort, he was open to facilitating the reverse of that, but only if his party was not the largest.
So, his party is not the largest and Fianna Fáil is — barely. So, will Fine Gael offer them a similar deal in return?
Absolutely not. Simon Coveney, speaking onon Sunday night, made that very clear.
“I think in the aftermath of this election, the likelihood of our confidence and supply type arrangements is very unlikely,” he said.
“Fine Gael will either play a constructive role in Government, or we will be a very active party in opposition.”
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have suffered electorally as a result of the confidence and supply deal, and there is now virtually no appetite within either party to see it continue in any shape or form.
Scenario 3: Left-Wing Government
As stated above, McDonald and her inner team set about ringing the leaders of all the other left parties, in a bid to see if forming a viable Government without Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is possible.
Such a scenario would see her as Taoiseach — but in reality, the numbers don’t stack up.
Sinn Féin with 37 seats, the Greens 10, the Social Democrats six, Labour five, Solidarity/People Before Profit three five, and five or so independents only gets you to 68 or thereabouts — well short of a majority.
Also, with so many personalities to keep happy, such an arrangement is doomed before it even begins.
Scenario 4: FG/SF Coalition
While the idea of a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin coalition has been much talked about, the possibility is a tie-up between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin — if you were looking purely at the numbers — is doable.
As with the Fianna Fáil scenario, you are close to the 80-seat mark, and if you add the Greens for a buffer, it begins to look stable.
Unlike Micheál Martin however, Varadkar, Coveney, and Paschal Donohoe have all maintained their pre-election stance that a deal with Sinn Féin is not possible.
“We are ambitious to play a role in continuing to bring about change in Ireland. That is best served by being in Government. But as we have made clear during the campaign, we will not be changing that stance, that does not go as far as looking to enter Government with Sinn Féin,” Donohoe made clear minutes after he was elected at the RDS.
Scenario 5: National Government
Given the scale of the various crises facing the country, there have been calls for a so-called ‘national Government’ to be formed.
The feeling is that if you get a cross-party consensus to solve the housing and health crisis, then you can get business done.
If you group Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Greens, the Social Democrats, Labour and Solidarity/People Before Profit, you would get more than 130 seats.
Again, there is no likelihood of this scenario coming to pass, as there is no appetite within any of the major parties to enter into such an arrangement.
In reality, with no party hitting 50 seats, the formation of Government will be highly challenging and is unlikely to be a speedy process.
It took 72 days last time. Buckle up.