In a major policy shift, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald has said that her party could take part in the next coalition government as a junior partner of either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.
The previous Sinn Fein position was that it would only take office if it was the larger party.
However, the deputy leader said Sinn Fein would need to have a “conversation” before the next election about taking up the junior role in government. The option would, she said, be discussed with members as party of Sinn Fein’s ongoing “review of strategy”.
Ms McDonald also said anyone entering government must be “pragmatic” about difficult decisions that must be made.
In an interview with the Irish Times, she defended Sinn Fein’s past declarations that it would enter power only as the dominant force in a coalition.
“People are understandably anxious when they look at the experience of other political parties that have gone into coalition and have either, in the minds of some, ‘sold out’ or left their politics outside the cabinet meeting room or have just not measured up or not performed,” she said. “We are not in the business of doing any of those things.”
The “ideal scenario” for the party is to hold the larger number of seats in a coalition, she said.
“I want us to be in government, I believe we will be in government in the South. We won’t be in government for the sake of it. It won’t be personal careerism or for the cheap thrill of headlines or the history-making moments of it. We can only go into government when we are confident that we are in a position to deliver.”
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams confirmed a party conference could overturn the party’s long-standing position on ruling out coalition with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
“The party’s position is that any decision to go into government is an ardfheis decision,” Mr Adams said.
Sinn Fein’s dislike for its potential coalition partners, long viewed by republicans as too conservative and corrupt, has always been matched by those parties’ dislike for Sinn Fein, who they have denounced as “fellow travellers” of the Provisional IRA.
But the move by Sinn Fein received a quick response from Fine Gael. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he would not rule out a possible coalition between the two, though he said he did not see such a scenario arising in the near future.
“Sinn Fein seem to be converted now to a position of changing their stance,” he said, adding: “I’m glad that they are now beginning to realise that in order to get things done you need to be there.”
He noted that by entering into a minority government with the support of their civil war-era rivals, Fianna Fail, following the last election, Fine Gael had redrawn the political landscape in the 26 Counties.
“I said I wouldn’t do business with Fianna Fail so, depending on the result you gave as a member of the electorate, politicians have to work with the result.”
Fine Gael’s Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar expressed similar sentiments. He said he did not envisage and wouldn’t campaign for sharing power with Sinn Fein, but added: “It’s actually the public and the people who decide the make-up of the next government.”
Earlier this month, the 26 County government chief whip Regina Doherty declared she was open to a coalition with Sinn Fein. The Meath East TD, who has been a controversial of Gerry Adams said there were some “fabulous” people in the party.
“There are some incredible people in Sinn Fein; incredibly smart, articulate, thoughtful and could I work with them? Of course I could, yeah,” Ms Doherty said.