Varadkar: FF, FG and Greens have mandate
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Sinn Féin, which got the largest percentage of votes in February's general election, was excluded from government.
An Irish government was formed on 27 June, the day before the anniversary of the outbreak of civil war (28 June 1922). Fine Gael, which lost several seats in the election and was ranked third of the parties, joined with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to form the government.
Of the larger parties, Fianna Fáil won 37 seats* (down 5 from 2016), Sinn Féin 37 (up 14), and Fine Gael 35 (down 15). Leo Varadkar made history by being the only sitting Taoiseach not to be re-elected on the first count. He was eventually elected on the sixth count, with Micheál Martin elected on the fifth count. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was elected on the first count in the Dublin city constituency.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had been acting in a caretaker capacity since the election in February in spite of the lack of a constitutional provision for this. Some Fianna Fáil TDs suggested an all-party agreed coalition, which is provided for by the constitution, but the two parties maintained their grip on power until the mortality rates from Covid-19 had dropped and many economic activities were resumed. In spite of its poor performance in the election, and broad dissatisfaction with its previous performance in government, as expressed in several opinion polls, Fine Gael gained most of the key ministries, including finance and foreign affairs.
Various Fianna Fáil TDs voiced complaints about this situation, including the exclusion of rural Ireland from representation.
Various sections of the Irish press have been demonstrating support of the impetus from the Fine Gael leadership to exclude Sinn Féin from government. RTÉ, the national broadcaster, has repeatedly referred to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as the two largest parties.
On 2 July, the Irish Times showcased a US political scientist who argued that the consent of the majority was not a clear-cut matter. "All citizens, including those who voted for Sinn Féin, are entitled to a fair hearing. But no one is entitled to fractional legislative victories or fractional preference satisfaction." This closely echoed a speech by Leo Varadkar on 27 June:
"It is a Government with a real democratic mandate. The three parties combined won more than 51% of the vote in the general election in February.
Some people may think that 24.5% [Sinn Féin's percentage of the vote] is a majority. Some people may think 3% or 1% is a majority. It is not. A majority is more than 50% and these three parties have that majority. They won it in the previous election and have a very strong mandate to govern and to serve over the next five years."
On 3 July Stephen Collins of the Irish Times wrote of Sinn Féin and those who voted for the party: "The Bobby Storey funeral is another reminder not simply that the IRA has not gone away but that its army council is the ruling body of Sinn Féin. Clearly some voters have no problem with that but the episode should alert the wider electorate to what a vote for Sinn Féin actually means."
In 2005, Michael McDowell, a member of the now defunct Progressive Democrat party, stated that Sinn Féin would not be allowed into government until the IRA disbanded, and there seems to be an informal agreement in some circles that Sinn Féin will be kept out of power on this basis.
*Technically the number is 38, but one is the Ceann Comhairle, who is automatically elected and does not sit with the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party.