Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar resigned in the evening of Thursday, February 20, but will remain in office until a government coalition is found, after legislative elections with no real winner on February 8. His party, the Fine Gael, came in third in number of seats.
“Leo Varadkar announced his resignation to the president this evening. According to the Constitution, the Taoiseach[[[[head of government in Gaelic] and the government will continue to exercise their functions until the successors are appointed “, announced his services in a statement.
The strong growth of Sinn Fein at the end of this election turned the Irish political landscape upside down, dominated for a century by the two big center-right parties, the Fianna Fail and the Fine Gael. Since then, discussions between political parties to form a coalition have stalled.
On Thursday afternoon, each of these three parties, along with the Greens, presented a candidate for the post of Taoiseach to the 160 MPs who met at Dail, the lower house of the Irish Parliament. The leader of the nationalist Sinn Fein party, Mary Lou McDonald, won the most votes with the support of 45 deputies, far from the 80 votes required to obtain a parliamentary majority.
The vote, however, represents a symbolic boost for Sinn Fein, once regarded as the political showcase of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), a paramilitary organization opposed to the British presence in Northern Ireland. Today demonabolized, the training seeks to establish a “Government of change”, by joining forces with small leftist parties. Evoking the voters, Mme McDonald explained “Committed to representing them well and doing our best to achieve this government of change”.
He denounces the “empty promises” of his rivals
On the other hand, only 36 deputies supported Leo Varadkar who did not fail to skin his rivals. “It is incumbent on those who made huge promises of change to people in this election, who have been given a mandate, to submit a government program to Dail for approval”said Varadkar to Parliament. “If they can’t, they should say it and be honest about their failure and the empty promises they made”, he launched.
The distribution of seats in Dail is particularly fragmented: Fianna Fail has 38 deputies, Sinn Fein 37, Fine Gael 35. During the poll, Sinn Fein was placed in the lead by 24.5% of the voters, before the two big centrist parties. But the Republican party led by Mary Lou McDonald had run only 42 candidates, about half the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael candidates.
The proposals of this left party in terms of housing, health, problematic at the heart of the concerns of the Irish, met with great success, but another question would arise in the debate if it acceded to responsibilities: that of the unification of Ireland.
Sinn Fein, the second largest political force on the island, both in the British province of Northern Ireland and in the Republic in the south, wants a referendum on the subject within the next five, if not three, years.
Towards new elections?
The Good Friday agreement, which ended three decades of violence in 1998 that left 3,500 dead, provides for a referendum to be held if it appears that a majority of the population is in favor of unification. The balance of power in Parliament is such that at least three parties will have to come together to form a coalition government.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have both ruled out working with Sinn Fein. “Let’s decide to work together in the interests of the people who sent us here”, pleaded Sean O Fearghail, president of the newly elected Lower House, on Thursday.
The Greens, the fourth political force with 12 seats, could have a decisive role. They offered to Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to meet them from Friday. Talks could be long, and if they fail, lead to new elections. After the last legislative elections in 2016, it took 70 days to form a coalition government between the Fine Gael and the Fianna Fail.