Sinn Fein demands place in government

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald at a public meeting at Dublin's Liberty Hall. Photo: Reuters
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald at a public meeting at Dublin's Liberty Hall. Photo: Reuters
Irish left-wing nationalists Sinn Fein has demanded a place in Ireland's next government at a packed rally in Dublin, saying the country's two dominant centre-right parties were trying block voters' demand for change.

Sinn Fein shocked the Irish political establishment in an election earlier this month by securing more votes than any other party for the first time, almost doubling its vote to 24.5% on a vow to fix the country's housing and health systems.

But it has been frozen out of government talks by centre-right rivals, Fianna Fail and Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael, who have both refused to contemplate sharing power due to policy differences and Sinn Fein's history as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

The two parties, who have alternated in power for 100 years, on Tuesday held talks about possibly sharing power for the first time.

"They are doing everything they can to keep people who voted for us out of government," Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald told a packed hall of 500 people on Tuesday, with a couple of hundred more waiting in freezing wind outside.

"Sinn Fein wants to be in government and we want to deliver.

"To the parties that have decided they do not want to speak to us, I say this: We respect your mandate. Now it is time that you respect ours."

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Sinn Fein does not operate to the same democratic standards held to by every other party and that McDonald had praised units of the IRA.

McDonald, who took over from Gerry Adams in 2018 and has no direct link to the IRA's role in the three decades of violence in Northern Ireland that ended in 1998, rejected the statement and said Martin was "exuding bile."

Varadkar has described the series of rallies Sinn Fein is holding across the country as part of a "campaign of intimidation and bullying," a statement ridiculed by the party.

Asked if Sinn Fein planned to take their fight to the streets, McDonald said her focus was on talks with other parties. "The numbers will stand or fall within the Dail (parliament)," she said.

Fine Gael won 35 seats in the 160-seat house to the 37 each held by Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein's best chance of entering government appeared to be a tie-up with Fianna Fail, whose opposition has been slightly softer than that of Fine Gael, but Martin has repeatedly ruled that out.

Most observers agree a government between Sinn Fein and several smaller left parties and independent members of parliament is unrealistic.

All sides predict it will take several weeks to form a government with the risk of a second election if talks fail, with analysts predicting Sinn Fein would be best placed to increase their seat numbers. 

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