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The people have spoken - now politicians must act

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Brexit, round two, has already begun with a tight timetable set out for the rest of this year. Photo: PA

Brexit, round two, has already begun with a tight timetable set out for the rest of this year. Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Brexit, round two, has already begun with a tight timetable set out for the rest of this year. Photo: PA

The people have delivered a verdict which appears to be beyond parallel in the history of this State. The nearest comparison looks to be an election in 1933 which saw Eamon de Valera peacefully take overall power from the party which had won a bloody Civil War a decade earlier.

This has been a remarkable triumph for Sinn Féin, which had become increasingly predictable as this campaign advanced. The party has won the trust of a quarter of the country's voters and is now on a par with the two parties which have dominated Irish politics for almost a century.

Sinn Féin must now live up to that trust and help provide government for the voters as best it can. Counting will continue today and the detailed results will become clearer, hopefully making the potential government permutations clearer.

Much will depend on the destination of final seats in many of the 39 constituencies across the country. But there is every chance that the result will be as inconclusive - or perhaps even more inconclusive - than the last general election in February 2016.

Last time it took 70 days of sometimes half-hearted negotiations to deliver a unique style of minority government, featuring Independents, led by Fine Gael and underpinned by the main party of opposition, Fianna Fáil. The so-called 'confidence and supply' arrangement had its drawbacks, notably a lamentable sluggishness in government.

There were times when the politicians showed themselves incapable of parking petty squabbles in favour of the bigger picture.

But it did deliver a deal of stability through the perilous times of Brexit negotiations and also lasted almost four years. That duration was a deal longer than many people would have predicted at the outset.

This time things may be even more complex, with basic difficulties facing each permutation.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have fundamental objections to sharing power with Sinn Féin. And Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil also have problems making a 'grand coalition' between themselves.

The numbers available for other coalition arrangements will become clearer today. There may also be other more creative arrangements to provide government in line with voters' wishes.

All these issues must be explored as quickly as possible. We cannot afford the foot-dragging we witnessed in the months of March and April 2016. Nor can we afford some of the political parties and groups abdicating their responsibility to help identify and provide government.

Brexit, round two, has already begun with a tight timetable set out for the rest of this year. We need effective government as soon as possible to deal with it.

There are other challenges on the international front. There is an incipient threat of world trade tensions which could harm Ireland's small open economy. Later this year, reform of corporate taxation under the aegis of the OECD will come to a head and could have an impact on the economy.

We need a strong government in all haste. The voters have spoken, now it's up to the TDs.

Irish Independent