What Next for Ireland following Unprecedented General Election Result?
It’s been a nail-biting few days since Ireland’s General Election on Saturday last and still there is no clear indication of what’s next in terms of Government formation.
Counting of votes was completed late on Monday night and a number of high- profile politicians, including senior members of Government lost their seats.
The Irish Parliament is made up of 160 seats and the final count saw outgoing minority-governing party Fine Gael win just 35 seats, the second main party, Fianna Fail win 38 seats and left-wing party, Sinn Fein, win 37 seats.
The election results are unprecedented in Ireland and are likely to cause a massive shift in how the country is governed.
The key issues in the run up to the election included the ongoing housing crisis, issues in the health care system, including a number of scandals in recent years and plans by Government to increase the pension age to 67 next year, followed by a further increase to 68 in 2028. Pension age was increased from 65 to 66 in 2014, forcing thousands of 65- year olds to sign on for job seekers benefit to bridge the gap.
While the Irish economy has been improving consistently over the last 6 years, a survey carried out prior to the election showed that over 60% of Irish people said they were not benefitting from the country’s economic prosperity.
Issues including high child- care costs, poor public transport, an ongoing urban-rural economic divide and overall low quality of life were cited by many as reasons for a need for change coming up to the election.
Since the 1930s, Ireland’s Government had been led by one of its two centrist parties, Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, either as majority parties or in coalition with both left and right-wing parties.
The most recent Government was a minority-led Government with Fine Gael having varying degrees of support from a number of Independent members of parliament. The Government was further propped up by a 3-year confidence and supply arrangement with opposition party Fianna Fail, signed after the 2016 General Election. The agreement was extended until clarity was reached on the completion of Brexit.
In the run up to the Election the leaders of both parties, Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail’s Michael Martin, said they would not enter into a coalition with Sinn Fein, which is active in both Ireland and Northern Ireland and has historical associations with the Provisional Irish Republican Army, commonly known as the IRA.
Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald has expressed her determination that her party will be part of the next Government as part of a left-wing coalition and that her first preference is for a Government to be formed without Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.
It has been confirmed that Ms. McDonald has begun to make contact with other potential members of a left-wing coalition including the Green Party, Social Democrats, Solidarity People Before Profit and the Labour Party. However, these left-wing coalition options combined still have just 29 seats. Even if all were willing to join with Sinn Fein in coalition it would still be far off the number needed to form the required 80 seats of a majority Government.
That would leave Sinn Fein in need of support from the 19 Independents who won seats in the election, but that would open tricky negotiations as many of these have traditional leanings towards one of the two main centrist parties.
The Irish Parliament will reconvene on Thursday February 20th but it’s likely that negotiations to form the country’s next Government will stretch well beyond that.
(Image by Guimo via creativecommons.org)