Sinn Fein shake up Irish politics at the ballot box

Monday 10th February 2020

After the Irish general election at the weekend, it seems as if the long-standing two-party system has finally been smashed apart.

Unlike the UK, where a first past the post system operates, Ireland employs proportional representation to form their government, which has meant that historically the outcome has involved some form of coalition administration.

Fine Gael have been in power since 2011, initially in coalition with the Labour Party, then with independents, with a confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fail. In fact historically it has been essentially a two-party system with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael hustling with other smaller parties to form a coalition, refusing at any point to collaborate with each other.

However, as the votes came in over the weekend, it appears that the political landscape has been well and truly shaken up with Sinn Fein winning 24.5 percent of the first preference votes, compared to 22.2 percent for Fianna Fail and 20.9 percent for Fine Gael.

As per normal, it appears that no single party can form a majority, but Sinn Fein’s success was described by its president Mary Lou McDonald as a, “revolution at the ballot box”.

Both the current PM Leo Varadkar, and Fianna Fail leader, Michael Martin, say they will not form an alliance with Sinn Fein or each other, so the future is looking extremely confused.

80 seats are required for a majority in the Irish parliament, but given that Sinn Fein only had 42 candidates across the land, although they have won the first preference votes, it is impossible for them to form an administration on their own.

To avoid another general election, the parties are going to have to come to some serious compromises.

Ms McDonald explains the shift to her party as a protest about the status quo. She explained,"The frustration people have felt for a long time with the two-party system, whereby Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil handed the baton of power between each other - that's now over.”

The latest projections indicate that Fianna Fail will secure 45 seats, Sinn Fein 37 and Fine Gael 36.

Of course the essential impact of this change will be on the Irish people, but both the EU and the UK will have a keen eye on events.

The question of the Irish border has dogged negotiations between Boris Johnson and Brussels from the outset, and now that he is trying to thrash out a trade deal with the EU, he really needs Dublin to be on his side.

Having established what seems to be a good relationship with Varadkar, Johnson will be concerned about the power of Sinn Fein with whom he has not had such healthy relationships in the past in Stormont. After all the Tories were buoyed up by the DUP under Theresa May and Sinn Fein MPs in the North still refuse to sit in Westminster.

The final Irish election result could rock Downing Street as well as Ireland.

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