Sinn Féin coalition – A year after the general election, Martin indicates a sea-change in FF stance
Almost 20 Fianna Fáil TDs have said they would not rule out holding coalition talks with Sinn Féin after the next general election.
It comes after Taoiseach Micheál Martin appeared to soften his stance on the prospect of Fianna Fáil negotiating with Mary Lou McDonald’s party, suggesting it “may evolve depending on policy”.
While some party members expressed concerns about Sinn Féin’s policies, almost every Fianna Fáil TD who responded to queries from The Irish Times expressed a willingness to sit down with Sinn Féin after the next election.
Some TDs also said they believed the party made a mistake in not doing this after the 2020 general election.
Those who are open to the possibility include senior party members such as Jim O’Callaghan as well as Ministers of State Robert Troy and James Browne.
The Irish Times attempted to contact all 38 Fianna Fáil TDs on this issue and 19 responded.
In all, 17 TDs including Mr Martin indicated they were open to revising the party’s approach to Sinn Féin.
The development marks something of a sea-change in Fianna Fáil’s stance exactly one year after a general election, where Mr Martin ruled out talks with Ms McDonald citing policy differences and because he didn’t consider Sinn Féin to be a normal political party.
One year later the picture has changed.
In an interview with The Irish Times for the Winter Nights Festival at the end of January Mr Martin was asked what his position was now and if the situation had evolved.
He said: “It may evolve depending on policy and policy content and how things develop.
“When I look into the future I am not going to be totally predicting what will and what will not happen.
“That said, at the moment, I think Sinn Féin’s policy platform on a range of issues would make it very difficult for us to coalesce with them.” He cited the economy, social matters and Sinn Féin’s attitude to the EU.
Mr Martin also said: “In future situations I think there will be far more flexibility all around but I think it will centre on policy and policy initiatives.”
Several other Fianna Fáil TDs have now expressed similar views.
Mr O’Callaghan, a TD for Dublin Bay South, said: “Fianna Fáil should neither rule in nor rule out any party for coalition purposes” after the next election. He said the party should fight the election on its own manifesto and record and, if successful, seek to form a government with “parties who have compatible policies”.
Another senior TD, Barry Cowen of Laois-Offaly, said he would “rule nothing out but it’ll be a matter to be considered down the road”. He said it was an “error” not to meet Sinn Féin after the last election.
He said it may not have led to government-formation talks but the public would have appreciated the option being explored.
Dublin South West TD John Lahart echoed the view that it was a mistake not to hold exploratory talks last year though he said he believed Sinn Féin would have rebuffed any Fianna Fáil overture.
He said that next time “if the necessity arises, we should not exclude anyone who is serious about forming a government”.
Minister of State for Trade Robert Troy said he believes the current coalition with Fine Gael and the Green Party is doing well and doesn’t envisage an election for another four years.
He also said: “Any party with a democratic mandate deserves to be spoken with and I don’t think you should rule anybody out without at least talking to them.”
Minister of State for Justice James Browne also said what while Fianna Fáil should not be ruling out anyone for coalition, he would have “deep concern” about entering government with Sinn Féin in particular in relation to what he says are “their populist economic policies”.
Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc Mac Sharry, referring to the Taoiseach’s recent comments to The Irish Times, said: “It is a crying shame that wasn’t his position over the three years running into the last general election.”
He said “the arithmetic” of the Dáil is a matter for the people and it’s “arrogant in the extreme” for parties to say they will “not do business with X, Y or Z”.
All TDs who offered their views to The Irish Times expressed various reservations about Sinn Féin from their economic policies to qualms about the party’s history but none ruled out the prospect of talks.
Just two TDs who responded – Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Cork South West’s Christopher O’Sullivan – did not offer a view. Another who did not want to be named was open to future talks with Sinn Féin.
Jim O’Callaghan – Dublin Bay South: “My view is that at the next election Fianna Fáil should neither rule in nor rule out any party for coalition purposes. By ruling out a party we spend too much time talking about that party. Fianna Fáil should contest the next election on our own manifesto and record. If we are successful and receive sufficient support from the electorate, we should try to form a government with other parties who have compatible policies.