FINE Gael now belongs on the Opposition benches while Sinn Féin must form a government capable of honouring their “remarkable promises” to the electorate, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
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Mr Varadkar today accepted that his party “were defeated” in the general election, adding that they are “absolutely willing” to hand over the reigns of government.
The outgoing Taoiseach was speaking after he sought to offer “some reassurances” to investors “this is still a good country for business” at conference in Dublin organised by the IDA and the Financial Times.
He claimed the election result presented a risk Ireland will no longer be viewed as a warm place for them but said that situation didn’t arise yet.
Asked about his next move, Mr Varadkar said: ”We were defeated in this election. There’s no point in trying to dress that up in any way. It might have been a tight finish but we were defeated.
“That means people are saying to us that Fine Gael should go into opposition and we’re absolutely willing to do that.”
He said Sinn Féin achieved their historic vote by “making a lot of promises to a lot of people in this country”.
“So the responsibility now falls on them to build a coalition, to negotiate a republican, socialist programme for government that keeps their promises and to seek a Dáil majority for it.
“We’re willing to step back and let them do that.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald is beginning the process of trying to form a left-wing government today.
Her first meeting at Leinster House is with People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett and MLA Gerry Carroll.
However, the three-way split in the votes means there is no visible path to a government that doesn’t involve Sinn Féin working with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.
Even if Sinn Féin got the Green Party, Social Democrats, the Labour Party and Solidarity-People Before Profit on board, their rainbow coalition would be 14 seats shy of a Dáil majority.
Mr Varadkar said the “onus” is on Ms McDonald to find a way forward “either with left-wing parties or Fianna Fáil”.
“If they fail, we’ll consider the matter then. Anything is possible including a second election,” he said.
In the meantime Mr Varadkar said he would continue to carry out his duties as Taoiseach – but promised not to make any big policy or expenditure decisions.
“Any major financial or policy decisions will be deferred until a new government is formed. Where they cannot be deferred they’ll be made in consultation wit the leaders of the two other main parties,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said he would put the country first and exception to some of Sinn Féin’s campaigning, suggesting they have created a “fake history” for voters.
“Fine Gael, my party, is the party that founded the State, it institutions, the party that founded the republic.
“There’s another party that was founded in 1971, which has a fake history that says otherwise,” he said.
“But we were the ones that founded the State. We’re the ones that founded the institutions. We’re the ones that made this country a republic. We stand by the State and republic and if we’re needed in order to give the country political stability with governance then we’re willing to talk to other parties about that.
“But in the first instance the onus is on Sinn Féin to honour its promises to the Irish people and to form a government led by them,” he said.
Earlier this morning, Solidarity/People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said Mary Lou McDonald will struggle to find enough like-minded allies to reach the 80-seat threshold required for a majority in the Dail.
But Mr Boyd Barrett said it was still worth “exploring” the possibility of a minority administration.
Asked about the prospects of a minority Sinn Fein-led government, Mr Boyd Barrett said: “It wouldn’t be sustainable for very long but I still think it’s worth exploring if we could do something to urgently address the housing crisis, some of the problems in the health service with the desperate waiting lists, some of the issues around climate change and the cost of living.
“I think anything that could give expression and delivery to the sentiment that people expressed at the ballot box during the election would be worth exploring and I am absolutely keen to do it and People Before Profit are absolutely keen to try to do that.”
Mr Boyd Barrett told RTÉ's Morning Ireland his party was keen to talk with Sinn Fein and other left wing parties about the potential of forming a government together.
“We very much want to see a left government and we were the first to articulate that as a possibility at the outset of this campaign and I think it resonated with huge numbers of people that it was possible to break the cycle of Fianna Fail/Fine Gael rule and open the way for a government of the left, so we’re delighted there’s been a big shift in Irish politics towards the left and we want to explore with other parties of the left, or who put forward left wing policies, the possibility of forming such a government, but the raw numbers would suggest we’re a bit short of a majority.”