Sinn Fein calls for ‘people’s government’ as election count continues

Sinn Fein will work to form a “people’s government” voters can relate to after making historic gains in the Irish General Election, leader Mary Lou McDonald said.

She pledged to get to grips with crises in housing and health and bring a new lease of life to public administration.

Counting of votes resumes on Monday in 26 constituencies to fill the remaining 82 seats.

Sinn Fein emerged as the most popular party in the country, securing the most first preference votes and topping the polls in the vast majority of constituencies across a state previously dominated by two other large parties.

Sinn Fein received 24.5% of the vote share on first preference, Fianna Fail got 22.2% and Fine Gael 20.9%.

It could be months before a Government is formed, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, with talks on forming a coalition set to begin between party leaders.

Ireland general election 2020: first preference votes.
Ireland general election 2020: first preference votes.

Mrs McDonald told RTE: “We want to talk to anyone who is interested in delivering a programme for government. That is about getting to grips with the housing crisis and solving it, getting to grips with the crisis in health and giving families and workers a break and giving a new lease of life to government.

“A government that people relate to, that is in tune with the realities of people’s day-to-day lives, not one that is aloof and adrift from the experiences of citizens.”

Fianna Fail remains best placed to secure the most seats, primarily due to Sinn Fein’s failure to field enough candidates to capitalise on its unexpected surge at the polls.

Fine Gael looks like being the big loser and will concede several high profile-seats.

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Its finance minister Paschal Donohoe said: “It is clear that no political party in our country has a monopoly on representing the people of Ireland.”

None of the parties will come close to securing enough seats to achieve a majority in the Dail parliament, so thoughts have already turned to the make up of a coalition administration.

Sinn Fein has been left to rue its decision to run half the number of candidates of its two main rivals.

That will see a significant number of Sinn Fein surplus votes being transferred to other parties in the proportional representation contest.

General Election Ireland 2020
General Election Ireland 2020

Smaller groupings such as the Greens, Labour, the Social Democrats and Solidarity/People Before Profit, and a sizeable number of independent TDs, may all be courted as the main parties seek junior coalition partners.

Mrs McDonald said: “This campaign has been about change and giving Sinn Fein a chance to demonstrate what it feels like when it is led by or has a party of the people in it, that has been the theme of our discussions and conversations.

Thank you. All of you who voted for Sinn Féin. Your vote counted. We are your party. We will now do everything we can to secure a government for the people. We will never leave you behind. We will never let you down.

— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) February 9, 2020

“This vote for Sinn Fein is for Sinn Fein to be in government, for Sinn Fein to make a difference, for Sinn Fein to be tested, for Sinn Fein to deliver.”

On Sunday, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin declined to repeat his pre-election pledge never to do business with Sinn Fein.

He later cautioned observers not to “jump the gun” in interpreting his remarks as a signal an alliance with the party was in the offing.

Mr Varadkar said his party’s stance on not dealing with Sinn Fein was unchanged.

Ireland general election 2020: state of the parties after 78 of 160 seats filled
Ireland general election 2020: state of the parties after 78 of 160 seats filled

There are 160 seats in the Dail parliament. The speaker is automatically re-elected, leaving 159 seats up for grabs and 80 the magic number for a majority.

Mr Varadkar’s last government, a minority Fine Gael-led administration that included several independent TDs, was sustained in power through a historic confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fail.

That landmark pact between two parties founded from opposing sides of Ireland’s civil war of the 1920s took 70 days to negotiate following the inconclusive 2016 general election.