Doubts cast over coalition of the left as Sinn Féin begins talks with other parties

Pearse Doherty will lead the Sinn Féin negotiating team as it attempts to form a government in the Republic. Picture by Rebecca Black/PA Wire
Pearse Doherty will lead the Sinn Féin negotiating team as it attempts to form a government in the Republic. Picture by Rebecca Black/PA Wire

SINN Féin will today begin negotiations aimed at forming the Republic's next government as doubts were cast over its ability to move forward without one of the two establishment parties.

Following the conclusion of the counts from Saturday's election, Fianna Fáil has the most seats after returning 38 TDs, followed closely by Sinn Féin on 37, and Fine Gael on 35.

The Greens have a record 12 seats, the Social Democrats six, Solidarity-People Before Profit is on five and Labour on six, while Aontú leader Peadar Tóibin retained his party's single seat.

There are also 19 independent TDs of various hues, making up 160 seats in all.

Donegal TD Pearse Doherty will head the Sinn Féin negotiating team but the prospect of his party heading a 'rainbow' coalition including the Greens and smaller parties appears unlikely.

Mary Lou McDonald said her preference is to form a coalition that does not include Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

But a number of the independent TDs are critics of Sinn Féin, while Labour leader Brendan Howlin has ruled out going into government with Ms McDonald's party, making it difficult to reach the majority threshold of 80 seats.

Speaking yesterday, the Sinn Féin leader said the electorate "voted for change" and that her party would meet with "those that received a mandate for change".

"We will look at how to deliver the change that people voted for - that means delivering solutions on housing, health, climate change, pensions, giving workers and families a break and advancing Irish unity," she said.

"I also welcome the fact that Fianna Fáil have shifted their position about talking to Sinn Féin and understand that this election has changed everything – there should be no delay in government formation."

Ms McDonald said there was "serious work to do and it needs to begin quickly".

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he would be meeting with other parties in the next few days but raised doubts about Sinn Féin finding the necessary support among smaller parties.

He said there had been "something of an earthquake" which saw Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael emerge with less than half of the electorate's popular support.

"It's a poor result for the establishment, and we're glad that many people have made that move but if you look at the numbers, much as we campaigned for and suggested that a left government was possible, I think probably we haven't got the numbers," he told Newstalk.

He said Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were likely to have discussions, while Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and the Greens was another possibility.

"I think the priority for us is how do we keep the momentum to the left going, and look at how could the left build an alliance if we haven't quite got the numbers for a left government this time around, it's tantalisingly close," he said.