Irish General Election: What happens now and who will form the next government?
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Irish General Election: What happens now and who will form the next government?

IT'S now something of an undisputed fact that the 2020 General Election took the country by surprise.

Sinn Fein seemingly came from nowhere to triumph in the popular vote and Leo Varadkar's tenure as Taoiseach looks all but over.

But with no party able to garner the 80 seats needed for a majority, a frantic negotiation period awaits the country before we're able to find out just what the 33rd Dail will look like once the dust has settled.

And if you're still a little unsure as to what the heck's going on right now, the Irish Post's got you covered.

What happens next?

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Discussions between party leaders will now take place in order to form a new coalition government. With each of the three major parties having won a similar amount of seats, their claims to head the new government will all be fairly strong. But whatever the agreement, a coalition of 80 TDs must be formed in order to secure a majority, which won't be an easy task.

How long will it take?

It's unclear. Technically the Dail is due to meet in nine days, but there's no guarantee that an agreement will be found by then. In 2016, it took 70 days for a government to be formed after a lengthy negotiation period, and given the number of different ways parties could be propped up by one another, we might be waiting a similar amount of time.

Who will be in government?

That's the question on everyone's lips. It's all about the negotiations. If, for example, Sinn Fein do a deal with Fianna Fail, then the new government will be made up of SF and FF TDs. But governments can be formed through all sorts of agreements. For example, in 2016 a 'confidence-and-supply agreement' was made, which saw a cabinet of Fine Gael members and independents being propped up by Fianna Fáil votes on key policy areas.

Who will be the next Taoiseach?

Again, it highly depends on how the negotiation go. Barring any mad agreements, the likelihood is it will be either Fianna Fáil's Michael Martin or Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, though Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar is technically still in the race. Martin has the most seats while McDonald has the popular vote, so they both have a strong claim, and there's even speculation that if their two parties agreed to enter government together, the position could be rotated between them.

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Why did Sinn Féin do so well?

They capitalised on public fury over issues of homelessness, house prices, rent prices and overcrowded hospitals. They offered leftwing solutions such as an ambitious public housing building programme, that enthused voters, especially those under 50. Moreover, they advertised themselves as the only option for 'real' change, something which arguably allowed many voters to either overlook or simply forget about their controversial historical links to the IRA.

Sinn Féin won the popular vote but didn't win the most seats, how does that work?

They didn't field enough candidates in order to take advantage of their surge in popularity. They ran only 42 - compared to Fianna Fail's 84 and Fine Gael's 82 - in the proportional representation contest. Analysts even claim that had they run the equivalent amount, they would've likely won around 10 more seats, which would've made them by far the biggest party in the Dail.

Why didn't they run enough candidates?

The party's poor performance during the last three elections suggested that something as ambitious as winning the popular vote was a pipe-dream. Not least their disappointing showings in presidential, European and local council polls did nothing to suggest such a result was imminent. Ireland's two-party system simply appeared unbreakable in 2020. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, I suppose.

 

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Which parties are willing to do a deal?

Leo Varadkar has said numerous times that he isn't willing to do a deal with Sinn Féin. Michael Martin has previously said the same, although he refused to reiterate those words once the results of the election became apparent. On the other hand, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have no reason not to be able to thrash out a deal. Sinn Féin meanwhile have expressed a desire to form a left-leaning administration by teaming up with smaller parties such as the Greens, Labour and Social Democrats, and willing independent TDs. But whether they can muster enough seats without using FF or FG remains to be seen.

Why are FF and FG so opposed to working with SF?

Sinn Féin's historic links to the Provisional IRA have always proven something of a barge-pole deterrent for other parties. But with a brand new face at the helm in Mary Lou McDonald and their popularity soaring around the country, reluctance to deal with them may quickly dissipate.

What about Irish unity?

Sinn Fein are keen on a referendum, and their success makes it more likely, but by no means is it a guarantee. The issue could be used as a bargaining tool during negotiations, so we'll have a much better idea about the issue once the new government is formed.

Will Leo Varadkar lose his job?

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Not necessarily. While the poor election results and his reluctance to do a deal with Sinn Fein likely means he likely won't stay on Taoiseach, should Fine Gael do a deal with Fianna Fail he could remain in the role. The most likely outcome at the moment is that he will lead Fine Gael as the opposition, or that he will step down as leader, but again, the negotiations will determine how this plays out.