Varadkar says he is likely to be next leader of the opposition

Leo Varadkar has said he will likely be the next leader of the opposition in the Irish parliament.

The prediction from the Fine Gael leader, who remains Taoiseach until a new one is appointed, suggests he believes both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein will end up in government.

The Taoiseach, who led his party to its second worst election performance in history, said responsibility now lay with Sinn Fein, as the party that attracted the most votes, to seek to put together a “socialist” administration.

However, when asked whether there was any chance Fine Gael could be part of an alternative governing coalition, potentially alongside Fianna Fail, he insisted “anything was possible”.

He said another general election was also a possibility, though he insisted that would not be good for the country.

Mr Varadkar’s comments come amid ongoing uncertainty about the make-up of the next government and even if it will be possible to assemble one at all.

Sinn Fein was holding talks with the leaders of other left wing parties throughout Wednesday as it tries to assess the viability of leading a government without the involvement of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Mr Varadkar made clear he wanted to continue to lead Fine Gael, even if that was in opposition.

“I think the likelihood, at the end of the process, I will be leader of the opposition and that will require my new parliamentary party still wanting me to do that. I will want to do that,” he said.

“One thing I didn’t have the opportunity to do when I was Taoiseach was to modernise and reform my party because I was very busy with the work of government and work of State so I relish the opportunity to do that.”

After attending the European Financial Forum at Dublin Castle, Mr Varadkar criticised Sinn Fein, claiming the party had made a series of “remarkable promises” to the Irish people – commitments it was now obliged to deliver on.

He also accused the party of promoting a “fake history”, insisting it was Fine Gael that could rightly lay claim to founding the Irish state, not the modern incarnation of Sinn Fein, which he pointed out was established in the 1970s.

“We were defeated in this election and there is no point trying to dress that up in any way,” he said.

Mr Varadkar continued: “As I see the situation Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party, at least in terms of votes in this election. They won it marginally and they did so by making a lot of promises to a lot of people in this country.

“The responsibility falls on them to build a coalition, to negotiate a socialist programme for government that keeps their promises and to seek a Dail majority for it.

“We are willing to step back and allow them to do that.”

He said he had not been involved in any talks with Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald or with Fianna Fail.

Asked of the prospect of a mooted “super coalition” of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and potentially the Greens, Mr Varadkar said he would be willing to talk with rival political leaders if there was a need to “give the country political stability”.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald had scheduled meetings with smaller parties on Wednesday amid efforts to assemble her desired government of the left.

Sinn Fein would need to secure the support of the Greens, Labour, the Social Democrats and Solidarity/People Before Profit, and a range of independent TDs, to form such an administration.

After meeting with Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, she described the exchanges as “useful and constructive”.

“I have made it clear since before the election – and after – that I will speak to all parties in the interests of forming a government; starting with those with a mandate for change,” she said.

“The Green Party, having increased its mandate significantly, is undoubtedly one of those parties.”

If Ms McDonald does not reach 80 seats, she could theoretically form a minority government.

IRISH Election
(PA Graphics)

However, that would require an understanding with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, through some form of confidence and supply arrangement, that would see them abstain on key votes from the opposition benches.

Solidarity/People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said a minority Sinn Fein-led Irish government may not last long but it could still achieve progress on key domestic issues.

“It wouldn’t be sustainable for very long but I still think it’s worth exploring if we could do something to urgently address the housing crisis, some of the problems in the health service with the desperate waiting lists, some of the issues around climate change and the cost of living,” he told RTE Radio One.

“I think anything that could give expression and delivery to the sentiment that people expressed at the ballot box during the election would be worth exploring and I am absolutely keen to do it and People Before Profit are absolutely keen to try to do that.”

Many believe it will be impossible to form a government without the involvement of one of either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, the two long-time big beasts of Irish politics.

A coalition of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Green Party – which ended with 12 seats – is seen as a potentially more realistic option. Though that would involved Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin u-turning on his pledge never to do business with Sinn Fein.

Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin
Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin had pledged not to do business with Sinn Fein (Yui Mok/PA)

Another permutation could see the exclusion of Sinn Fein, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail entering power together with another smaller party or grouping – a so-called “super coalition”.

Fianna Fail could also potentially seek to form a minority government with several of the smaller parties – an administration that would require a confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael on the opposition benches.

That would reverse the landmark pact struck in 2016 that saw Fianna Fail, as the main opposition party, sustain the last Fine Gael-led minority government in power.

With so much uncertainty about the make-up of the next government, another general election cannot be ruled out.

Fianna Fail emerged from Saturday’s election as the largest party by the narrowest margin over the surging Sinn Fein.

Mr Martin’s party finished with 38 seats to Sinn Fein’s 37 at the end of two days of counting.

But given the Fianna Fail speaker was re-elected without contest, both parties essentially “won” the same number of seats.

Fine Gael was the big loser, winning only 35 seats having entered the campaign as the largest party on 47.

Despite being edged in seat numbers, Sinn Fein was undoubtedly the party with most to celebrate, having smashed Ireland’s long-standing two-party system.

Ms McDonald’s party triumphed in the popular vote and may have won many more seats – potentially an additional 11 – if it had fielded more candidates in the landmark contest.

As such, momentum is behind her in taking the first steps in what could be a long and tortuous process to form a new government.

She has predicted she could be Ireland’s next taoiseach.

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