And the Taoiseach has appeared to wash his hands of the process, by saying it was now to left-wingers Sinn Fein, which took almost a quarter of first-preference votes in the general election earlier this month, to form a Government. It comes as the Social Democrats – who secured what could be a crucial six seats in the election – rejected going into a coalition with Mr Varadkar. A spokesman said today: “It is clear to all that Fine Gael are now engaged in a game-playing exercise and we refuse to participate in what is essentially theatrics by FG.
“We’ve no interest in participating in such a charade.”
Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael colleagues met at Leinster House, seat of Dail, Ireland’s legislature, to thrash out a way forward yesterday.
And there were strong indications TDs – equivalent to MPs – wanted no part of any coalition Government involving either Fianna Fail or a resurgent Sinn Fein.
Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring, who is on record as saying Fianna Fail, led by Micheal Martin, and Sinn Fein, led by Mary Lou McDonald, should go into partnership together, was particularly vociferous in his opposition, the Irish Independent reported.
Leo Varadkar’s own MPs are opposed to joining a coalition
Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Fein
In contrast others, including Mr Varadkar’s deputy Simon Coveney and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, were understood to want to keep their options open.
If no deal can be worked out between Ireland’s two traditional main parties, options are limited, with another general election a distinct possibility.
Speaking after the crunch meeting, Mr Varadkar attempted to put a brave face on the situation, insisting the ball was now in Sinn Fein’s court.
He told the media: “I relish the challenge of leading the opposition, providing good, robust and detailed and forensic opposition to the next government.
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Leo Varadkar pictured with finance minister Paschal Donohoe
“It’s very much our view that Sinn Fein has the largest party, the onus is on them to form a government with parties of the left and Independents.
“It’s not easy to do that, it took us 76 days to do so in 2016.
“The onus is on them to deliver on the extraordinary promises that they made to people during the course of the election campaign.
“If they’re unsuccessful the onus then falls to Fianna Fail to form a government with Sinn Fein or other parties and Independents, and they should be given the opportunity to do that.”
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Micheal Martin, leader of Fianna Fail
Leinster House, where the meeting took place
Asked if he would be prepared to enter into a coalition if Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail were unable to agree a coalition, Mr Varadkar said: “I think that’s just far too many hypotheticals. But certainly we’re not going to be rushed into anything.
“This time in 2016 we were the largest party, we spent 76 days trying to put together a government involving smaller parties and Independents and we did that, and now the onus falls on Sinn Fein as the largest party in the Dail to do that.”
For her part, Ms McDonald reiterated her desire to replace Mr Varadkar as the country’s leader – and first woman Taoiseach.
Dail composition: The balance of seats in the legislature
She said: “There is undoubtedly a solid block of TDs for change for a new government. I remain very determined that we deliver that government.
“And I think that we need to knuckle down on the policy issues on housing, on the need to cut rents and freeze them, on the need to deliver a huge public housing programme, and on the need to resolve the issue around pensions and get it back to the age of 65.
“We are still very determined that an alternative and a new government of change can be created. And we will intensify our efforts this week when we have conversations with other parties.
Counting in the Irish election
“I am very clear that we have been elected in very large numbers to be in government, even to lead the next government.”
Ms McDonald added: “I want to see a good, stable, strong government that can deliver on housing, on health, can deliver on the issues that matter to people.
“But if there is an election, I mean we’ll go and we’ll fight the election.”