Can the Left Form a Government in Ireland?

Published on 28 February 2021 at 14:01

The support for the government among the public has fallen in recent polls, with Fianna Fáil struggling to rise above the mid-teens. Leo Varadkar’s approval rating has also come crashing down in the most recent poll, with his rating down 13% since October 2020.


On the other hand, Sinn Féin has maintained high levels of support, with the party reaching record-high levels of support in the last Red C poll at nearly 30%.  Fine Gael has received a boost in polls but this support has been slipping recently, with Sinn Féin almost equalling them. With support for the government and the coalition parties falling, this raises a question many were asking after last year’s election: can left-wing parties lead a government in Ireland?


While one cannot predict the outcome of the next election, one can assume the likelihood of any single party winning an outright majority is very slim. Another hung parliament will put us in coalition territory once again. The polls indicate that it will be up to Fine Gael and Sinn Féin to form a government following a string of worrying results for Fianna Fáil. Sinn Féin appears to have its eyes on creating a government composed of other left-of-centre and far-left parties and independents, preferably without the support of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.


Let us discuss some hypothetical situations where Sinn Féin aims to create a broad coalition of left-leaning parties to oust their two main political rivals. Based on current trends and polling, Sinn Féin would win approximately 50-60 seats in the next election, leaving them well short of an overall majority of 80 seats.


Mary Lou McDonald would then need to look for support from the smaller left-leaning parties, which would not be an easy task given the fractured nature of left-wing politics in Ireland.  Solidarity-People Before Profit would appear to be the most obvious supporters of a Sinn Féin led government. All five of their TDs voted to ratify the Sinn Féin leader as Taoiseach when the Dáil first reconvened after the general election.


However, there is a caveat for Sinn Féin to consider if they want the support of S-PBP; they will refuse to enter any government that involves Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. This stance could make things tricky for Sinn Féin to form an all-left government. Along with S-PBP, they will have to look to the Social Democrats, who recently announced at their national conference that they would be aiming for 18 seats in the next election.


While this is an ambitious target for a party that currently has six TDs, support for the Social Democrats has been on a continuous uptrend recently, with a noticeable increase of support among 18-34 year olds. If the party were even to reach double digits in terms of seats, there is no doubt that Sinn Féin would enter coalition talks with the purple party.


A SF-SD-S-PBP coalition majority may be possible, but it would require many breakthroughs for the two smaller parties. Mary Lou McDonald may require the support of several independents or the Labour Party, with the Green Party an additional option. Seeking the support and confidence of Alan Kelly’s Labour would be nothing short of a monumental challenge considering that Alan Kelly himself has often taken a swipe at Sinn Féin.


When announcing the Labour Party’s new spokespeople last summer, Kelly was asked about the prospect of his party and Sinn Féin working together. He replied, stating ‘We will not take populist stands and just oppose things for the sake of it.’ Judging by the Labour leader’s attitude, it is tough to see a world in which Labour become junior partners in a Sinn Féin led government.


Perhaps the Greens could find themselves in another government as junior partners. The Green Party is a self-proclaimed party of the left, with many of their policies and manifestos broadly lining up with what one would expect from a centre-left party. However, in the event where Sinn Féin attempts to create a government composed of left groupings, many in Sinn Féin and other parties may be hesitant to work with the Greens after much drama and poor performances in the current coalition.


Many speculate that the Greens have abandoned their own policies in government, which in turn has led to widespread resignations within the party. By merely comparing Green Party policy to legislation that the current government has enacted with the Greens’ support, it is safe to say that some of their policy preferences have been left in the shadows. This could well lead to issues and reluctance among other left-leaning parties in potentially forming a government. Without the support of Labour and/or the Greens, Sinn Féin would have to look to some rivals.


An Uachtarán Shinn Féin, McDonald, was once herself a member of Fianna Fáil many years ago, and she may have to turn to them once again. If current polling holds (which is admittedly unlikely), Fianna Fáil will finish as the third largest party, far behind Sinn Féin and Fine Gael. This would put Fianna Fáil in a position where they very well may decide who forms the next government.


The membership may have to decide if they want to enter a coalition with their historical rivals once again or return to the party from which they originated.  The Irish Times has reported that 17 Fianna Fáil TDs expressed a willingness to enter into discussions with Sinn Féin after the next election.


This revelation follows from An Taoiseach softening his view on potential coalition formation with Sinn Féin. In an interview with The Irish Times in January, he stated that ‘It may evolve depending on policy and policy content and how things develop.’ This line is in stark contrast to the same man who completely ruled out entering discussions with Sinn Féin. From Mary Lou McDonald’s point of view, returning to her roots may be the best chance for her to be Ireland’s first female Taoiseach.


While all of this is hypothetical, the chances of having an Irish government led by all left-wing parties is still some distance away. With Fianna Fáil’s softening position on Sinn Féin, accompanied by record-high levels of support for Sinn Féin, we may end up in a situation where Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil bury the hatchet and enter into government. This  partnership may be supported by the likes of the Social Democrats or the Greens. As is the beauty of democracy, we will have to wait until the people have spoken to see who will lead Ireland’s next government.

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