Irish election: Sinn Fein claims victory after securing largest tally in popular vote

Mary Lou McDonald's party shakes up Ireland's two-party system by winning second-highest number of seats 

Rory Sullivan
Tuesday 11 February 2020 11:01
Sinn Fein top the first preferences in Irish General Election

Sinn Fein’s leader has said she can be the next taoiseach, after her party won the election’s popular vote and almost gained the most seats in Ireland’s next parliament.

The party, led by Mary Lou McDonald, won 37 seats compared to Fianna Fail’s 38 in Saturday’s election.

However, the two parties were effectively tied on the same number of seats, as the Fianna Fail speaker was re-elected without contest.

Although it did not gain the most seats, Sinn Fein succeeded in shaking up a political system long dominated by two parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Sinn Fein might have won even more seats if it had fielded more candidates, with some suggesting it could have gained an additional 11.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael had one of its worst ever results, placing third and winning only 35 seats.

Hours before counting ended early on Tuesday morning, Ms McDonald said: “"I may well be the next taoiseach, yes."

She later said: "I think it would be a mighty thing to have a Sinn Fein taoiseach and also a woman perhaps in the job but you might say 'she would say that wouldn't she?"'

Under the single transferable vote system, Ms McDonald’s party received the highest vote share on first preference at 24.5 per cent, with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael trailing behind on 22.2 per cent and 20.9 per cent respectively.

Despite winning the popular vote, Sinn Fein’s place in the next government is far from certain.

As all three major parties fell short of the 80 seats needed for a Dail majority, some form of coalition government is necessary.

Ms McDonald wants to form a coalition of left-wing parties and independents, without the involvement of centre right Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

However, this alliance may well not have the numbers to succeed.

A coalition of Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Green Party, which has 12 seats, is seen as another potential option.

This would require Fianna Fail to renege on its pledge not to do business with Sinn Fein.

Jim O'Callaghan, a Fianna Fail politician, said on Monday that his party’s leader, Micheal Martin, had not changed his stance regarding Sinn Fein.

Mr Martin, however, refused to repeat this pre-election pledge on Monday.

Another possibility, albeit unlikely, is for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to form a “grand coalition” with some other smaller party or grouping.

Meanwhile, Ms McDonald has said her party would try to form a “people’s government” and tackle crises in health and housing.

"This election has certainly been seismic and historic, it's been an election that's really been driven by a demand for change by the people," she said.

The final distribution of the 160 seats is Fianna Fail 38, Sinn Fein 37, Fine Gael 35, Greens 12, Labour 6, Social Democrats 6, Solidarity/People Before Profit 5, Aontu 1, Independents4Change 1 and independents 19.

Additional reporting from the Press Association

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