Sinn Fein took home 37 seats in February’s general election, only one fewer than the Fianna Fail — which had been the main opposition party — and two more seats than Fine Gael, which had been in Government since 2011. This increase of 14 seats since the last election meant Sinn Fein had secured a historic result for the party. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald even described the outcome as “something of a revolution in the ballot box”. When all the first preferences were counted, the left-wing republican party had 24.5 percent of the vote, while Fianna Fail had 22 percent and Fine Gael just 21 percent.
It was the first time in close to a century that neither of the main two parties, Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, had won the most votes.
However, the leaders of both ruled out forming a coalition with Sinn Fein and instead created a joint government together which is currently led by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.
Even so, Sinn Fein could have formed a coalition with the smaller parties such as the Social Democrats, the Green Party, and People Before Profit to rival its two main opponents.
It would have needed a handful of independent candidates too, as a party needs 80 seats in the Dail to form a government.
However, this could “dilute the potency of Sinn Fein’s political platform”, according to contributor Conor Donnan, writing for Irish Central.
Writing prior to the formation of the current coalition, he suggested it would be better if the left-wing party took another tactic instead rather than push to be in government.
Mr Donnan wrote: “If Fianna Fail and Fine Gael formed a government without Sinn Fein, they would prove themselves to be an ‘old boys club’ that was willing to ignore the ‘democratic mandate of Sinn Fein’.”
He claimed that Ms McDonald, Sinn Fein’s leader, had already undermined the coalition after she said: “People voted for change and not a grand coalition between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.”
With both main parties leading the nation, Sinn Fein could then “capitalise on the establishment’s attempts to portray them as unfit radicals”.
Mr Donnan added that “a coalition between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael could be a blessing” as it would “appear undemocratic and unwilling to embrace change”.
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He wrote: “Sinn Fein may decide to remain outside of government in the South due to the uncertainty of the economy following Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.”
Ireland is set to be the nation most affected by the UK’s departure from the EU, particularly if there is not a trade deal set up for after the transition period — which is looking increasingly likely.
Mr Donnan speculated that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael may struggle with in-fighting within government, and thus put Sinn Fein in the perfect position to achieve “long-term goal of creating a left-leaning united Ireland”.
Indeed, Micheal Martin has been struggling with the Brexit process in recent weeks, and he has called for an injection of momentum in trade talks while pushing for a trade deal.
However, his words came shortly before the UK renewed its warning that it was content to walk away from the EU without a trade agreement.
Yet, according to the New European earlier this year an exit poll suggested that only one percent of Irish voters were worried about Brexit, which could potentially undermine a strategy to use Brexit against the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael coalition.