Sinn Fein, who secured a shock popular vote victory, are furious at the Taoiseach’s use of the coronavirus crisis, which makes another Irish general election impossible, to freeze them out of coalition talks, a former Irish diplomat has said. However, Ray Bassett, who has served as the country’s ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, said the hardcore nationalist party’s interests may ultimately be better served by staying in opposition in any case, given the difficult period which lies ahead. Talks about the future are ongoing, with Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael almost certain to enter into a partnership with traditional rivals Fianna Fail, led by Micheal Martin.
Nevertheless, any deal would still require at least one more partner, given Fine Gael and Fianna Fail could only command 73 seats in Ireland’s Dail between them – fewer than half the total of 160.
Sinn Fein, despite fielding just 42 candidates, won 37 seats in the February general election, one fewer than Fianna Fail.
The party actually won the highest percentage of first-preference votes in Ireland’s proportional representation electoral system – but there is little prospect of them being involved, with Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty telling Irish broadcaster RTE both major parties were guilty of playing “playground politics”.
Sinn Fein are genuinely annoyed that they have been excluded from talks on the formation of a new Government
Mr Bassett said: “Sinn Fein are genuinely annoyed that they have been excluded from talks on the formation of a new Government.
“They secured the highest percentage of the popular vote and hence expected some role in the new Administration but mismanaged their election strategy so they did not get the full benefit in terms of seats.
“The two parties which suffered losses at the General Election, Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, have excluded Sinn Fein – led by Mary Lou McDonald – and are now set on putting together a coalition of themselves and a third party, possibly the Greens or some Independents.”
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Mr Bassett said resentment was building, especially given Mr Varadkar has argue for the Sinn Fein to be included in a power-sharing agreement north of the border.
He added: “Sinn Fein feel cheated and claim the failure to talk to their party is disrespectful to it and their supporters.
“They point out that the two other parties have pressed the DUP in the North to go into the Stormont Executive with Sinn Fein.
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“If the Sinners are unsuitable for Government in the South, then surely it is hypocritical to press parties in the North to include them.”
Mr Bassett broadly agreed with Mr Doherty’s assessment, saying: “In reality, the two older parties are playing politics and their exclusion of Sinn Fein is just about self preservation and keeping a rival down.
“In normal times after an election which saw such a mood for change, the two losers in that election managing to hold onto Government would be controversial but these are not normal times.
“There is also the scandal of individual Ministers, who lost their seats in the election, still holding onto their Ministerial positions and salaries in the interim administration.
“However, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a temporary rallying around the existing authorities in all countries so the present situation can run for a little while longer.”
Mr Bassett also suggested Sinn Fein might be better off out of it.
He explained: “However, with a deep recession looming and Brexit talks going badly, it could be argued that Sinn Fein would be better off taking over the leadership of the Opposition and offering itself in the medium term as an alternative Government.
“In the meantime, they can play the role of a jilted suitor.”
The Green Party and the centrist Social Democrats are both being touted as possible coalition partners.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has highlighted a seven percent annual cut in carbon emissions as a pre-condition for talks.
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