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  • Writer's pictureThomas Cole

Irish election - an overview

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Now that the final results of the Irish parliamentary elections (lower house – Dáil Éireann) are known in full, here are some thoughts on the outcome:

· Sinn Féin’s 37 seats is the highest number of seats which the party has won in the Dáil Éireann since Ireland became independent from the UK in 1922. If Sinn Féin do enter any form of Government formally, then this will be the first time since the formation of the 1st Executive Council of December 1922 to September 1923 that the party would be taking on ministerial responsibilities.

· This is the first time in Independent Irish history that at a Dáil Éireann election, the two main parties Fianna Fáil (Centrist/centre-right) and Fine Gael (centre-right) between them did not have a majority of the seats.

· The Green Party’s 12 seats was their best result ever in an election to the Dáil Éireann. Given the make-up of the final results, there may well be an opportunity for them, in only the second time in their history since 2007-2011 to be a party of Government again.

· The number of Independent TDs (MPs) elected was at a joint-high of 19 (out of 160 seats) and is the same number of independent candidates who were elected at the 2016 elections. If the Independent for Change tally is included (1 seat), then this is the election with the highest number of Independent TDs ever elected.

· This is the first time since the 2008 financial crisis and the 2007 elections that Fianna Fáil (traditionally the largest party in Irish politics) are the largest party (although their number does include the speaker of the Dáil Éireann) but they nevertheless have 8 seats fewer than they did at the last elections in 2016.

· If the speaker is excluded from the Fianna Fáil tally, then on the basis of Sinn Féin having the same number if seats (both 37) but with the latter having the higher number if first-preference votes, this would be the first time in independent Irish history that a party other than Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil would have come in first place.

· For Fine Gael, this was the first time ever that the party were neither the largest nor the second largest in Dáil Éireann. For Leo Varadkar, the question now becomes whether or not he can continue to lead the party.

· The question now becomes who will form the Government. Despite the main two parties having pre-election looked to rule out any kind of co-operation with Sinn Féin, if SF are not part of any Government (either formally or in support from the opposition) then the only way a 3 party Government can come about is if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil team up with the Green Party. Such an outcome would give a small working majority.

· There is the possibility of a number of Independent candidates supporting any Government either in Government or from opposition. Independent TDs have been in Government before, both in the outgoing Government, in coalition with Fine Gael and in the last Fianna Fáil led Government.

· A majority two-party coalition Government is not possible. A centre-left 3-party Government (either in full-coalition) or through a supply-and-confidence agreement could come about if Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and either the Green Party OR the Labour Party OR the Social Democrats were to form an agreement to work together. There have been three-party Governments in Ireland in the past, most recently in the last Fianna Fáil-led Government between 2007 and 2011.

· For Fianna Fáil, being the “natural party of their Government” and having not formally been in Government since 2011 and not having been the largest party since then either, the temptation may well be to try taking the momentum away from Sinn Féin to form the next Government and be in the driving seat to do so.

· On the issue of Irish reunification, with Sinn Féin having done as well as they did and with Brexit causing concerns about the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s role in it, as a topic of discussion, it will become a lot livelier, especially if Sinn Féin formally enter Government. This does not mean that the chances of Irish reunification have necessarily increased but that as an issue it will get more air-time. (As a reminder, the only way in which a referendum in Northern Ireland on reunification can come about is if one is called by the British Government).

· Sinn Féin’s performance can best be described as having successfully reached out to enough people on the key issues of housing and healthcare, aiming to pick up votes from people who have felt behind by the Irish economic recovery since the financial crisis. Brexit was not an issue in the election with only 1% of voters saying that it had been an issue for them.

Full break down of results:

Fianna Fáil (centre/centre-right) 37 seats

Sinn Féin (left) 37 seats

Fine Gael (centre-right) 35 seats

Green Party 12 seats

Labour Party 6 seats

Social Democrats 6 seats

Solidarity-People Before Profit 5 seats

Aontú (socially Conservative) 1 seat

Independents for Change 1 seat

Independents TDs (no party affiliation) 19 seats

Speaker (technically Fianna Fáil) (does not vote) 1 seat

Total: 160 TDs, of which 159 vote. 80 TDs required for a majority.

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