GONE are the days when business continued as usual whether it was Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael who held the reins of power and only paid lip service to the demands of voters, doing just what they had to to appease them. The short sharp general election campaign seemed more like a summary execution of the outgoing Fine Gael-led government and also saw Fianna Fáil getting its come-uppance even if it did end up as the party with the largest number of seats in this tightest of races, winning 38 to Sinn Féin’s 37 and Fine Gael’s 35.
Sinn Féin could easily have taken another half-dozen seats to better reflect their first preferences tally had they fielded enough candidates nationwide, but even they were surprised by the scale of their success, which saw several of their candidates achieve the bones of two quotas, which was a waste because they did not have running mates to transfer their huge surpluses to.
Significantly, it was the first general election in which Sinn Féin expressed a desire beforehand to go into government in the south and the electorate seems to have given them a mandate to do so as the party with the most first preferences nationally. But, who with?
Outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is heading for the opposition benches, having consistently ruled out, both before and after the election, the prospect of going into coalition with Sinn Féin. Fianna Fáil also ruled it out beforehand, but have become more ambivalent about the matter since the election results came out.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has been sounding out the smaller parties about forming a left-leaning coalition government, but that might be a bit too fragmented and she may yet end up doing business with Fianna Fáil. Interestingly, both Varadkar and Martin failed to top the poll in their respective constituencies, being beaten by the Sinn Féin candidates.
In Cork South West independent Michael Collins almost doubled his share of the first preference vote he got in 2016 to top the poll this time – a truly amazing achievement – while there was a change of Fianna Fáil personnel with County Mayor Christopher O’Sullivan taking the seat of constituency colleague Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony.
But, the big story here was Social Democrats’ Holly Cairns taking the third seat, leaving Fine Gael without a TD in the constituency for the first time since 1961. Meanwhile, it was as you were in Cork North West, two FF and one FG.
It will be difficult to form a government, if at all, requiring a lot of complex negotiation and compromises. The issues facing the incoming government – health, housing, childcare, etc – have not gone away and there is now an even bigger expectation among voters that they will be tackled meaningfully or else they will pay for not doing so at the next election.
Throughout the campaign, there was not as much emphasis on climate change as was expected, but the issue still looms large for the new administration, as do the imminent post-Brexit trade talks between the EU and the UK.