Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin opens discussions with potential coalition partners

Mary Lou McDonald has begun exploratory talks with Sinn Féin's potential coalition partners. Pictures by Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE Sinn Féin negotiating team aiming to create a coalition government in the Republic will meet with the Greens again over the coming days after initial discussions between the parties were described by Mary Lou McDonald as "very useful and constructive".

Sinn Féin also held preliminary talks yesterday with People Before Profit (PBP) as part of its efforts to coalesce with parties of the left in the aftermath of Saturday's election.

Ms McDonald's party secured 37 seats in the poll, just one behind Fianna Fáil and two ahead of Fine Gael. The Greens returned a record 12 TDs, while Solidarity-PBP won five seats.

Sinn Féin will meet the Social Democrats, which has six seats, today.

The parties need 80 TDs to form a majority government and while on paper the numbers may be there, several independents' aversion to sharing power with Sinn Féin make reaching the necessary threshold unlikely.

Efforts to form a government are expected to move up a gear after the 33rd Dáil convenes on this day week and attempts to elect a taoiseach.

Speaking after meeting her Green counterpart Eamon Ryan, the Sinn Féin leader said she had made clear during campaigning and after the election that she would speak to all parties "in the interests of forming a government – starting with those with a mandate for change".

“The Green Party, having increased its mandate significantly, is undoubtedly one of those parties," Ms McDonald said.

She said the parties had held a "very useful and constructive" meeting where they had agreed to begin exchanging ideas ahead of meetings over the coming days.

On her meeting with the PBP delegation, which included West Belfast MLA Gerry Carroll, Ms McDonald said her party wanted to "form a government of change that delivers the change people voted for".

"Sinn Féin wants to form a government of change and our objective is a government that builds homes, cuts rents and freezes them, reduces the pension age to 65, gives workers and families a break, and advances Irish unity," she said.

The Dublin TD said the two parties had "agreed to stay in touch over the coming days".

Green leader Eamon Ryan said that as well as Sinn Féin, he had met the leaders of Fianna Fáil, and Fine Gael, and planned to speak to the Labour Party, whose leader Brendan Howlin resigned yesterday after the party returned six seats in the election, one fewer than it had in the last Dáil..

He said all the meetings were "positive" and that there had been a willingness among the other leaders to engage with the Green Party following its increased mandate.

“We want to see serious and committed action to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss and we need to do that in a way that improves people’s quality of life and protects our economy," Mr Ryan said, adding that he'd soon be meeting the Social Democrats and Solidarity/PBP.

PBP's Mr Carroll said the election result offered a "historic opportunity to break the cycle of Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael rule".

"Delivering real change means a fundamental break with the politics of neoliberalism and austerity, north and south – this cannot be delivered by coalition with the right," he said.

"We need radical action on housing, health care, the cost of living and climate change."

He said his party would "explore with Sinn Féin how these changes can be enacted".

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