There is increasing speculation that Sinn Fein could become the junior partners in the next coalition government in the 26 Counties after the party leadership refused to rule it out.
While current leader Gerry Adams and reputed leader-in-waiting Mary Lou McDonald both condemned the deals currently used to hold up minority governments in Dublin and London, neither would rule out entering into a coalition with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.
“You either take the plunge and you go into government or you don’t,” Ms McDonald said.
Any decision on the matter will need to go before a special Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, a potentially fraught conference of party delegates, many of whom would be ideologically opposed to a deal with a right-wing party.
Both Mr Adams and Ms McDonald were speaking after the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, while ‘ruling out’ a coalition with Sinn Fein, left open the prospect of a confidence-and-supply deal with the party for a minority government after the next election.
Any coalition would be a “matter of discussion” and depend on the agreement of a “robust, transformative and ambitious” programme for government, Ms McDonald said.
“Then, crucially, can we only ask the party itself,” she said, but added: “We want to be in government.”
Mr Martin has consistently rejected the prospect of a coalition with Ms McDonald’s party, but some of his most prominent TDs now openly say they would favour such an alliance over one with Fine Gael.
A future coalition government involving Sinn Fein must have a strategy for Irish unification, party leader Gerry Adams has indicated.
He said his party will place an emphasis on housing, the health service and Brexit as part of any post-election negotiations on forming a coalition government.
The Louth TD described ‘confidence and supply deals’ such as the current one between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael as “fundamentally dishonest” and “quasi-democratic”.
“Nobody votes for a confidence and supply deal,” Mr Adams said, but emphasised that Sinn Fein “wants to be in government to deliver change in the lives of citizens”.
He said Sinn Fein’s aim “is to replace partition with a new agreed Ireland”, adding “you are not going to achieve that with a minority government deal”. However, he also declined to rule out a coalition with a larger party.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has commissioned a white paper on a united Ireland, which is due to be completed later this year, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Fine Gael should “bring back into use the term ‘United Ireland Party’” as a tagline.
Mr Adams has also said “Sinn Fein is open to negotiating with other parties to deliver a republican programme of government and real change in the lives of citizens”.
“Regardless of what parties are saying today, and depending on what mandates we receive, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will either enter a formal partnership or begin to talk to Sinn Fein.”
Any move by Sinn Fein to return Michael Martin or Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach could benefit the small socialist parties.
Solidarity TD Paul Murphy warned “about the road that is being traveled” by Sinn Fein, pointing to “demoralisation” that took place when Labour went into government in 2011 and helped to implement Fine Gael’s conservative agenda.
“Coalition on any basis with the right will be a disaster for working class people,” he said.
“Look at the experiences of the Green Party and the Labour Party. They all went into coalition supposedly with the good intentions of delivering on their election promises. They inevitably ended up as implementers of austerity and regressive policies.”