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IRA-linked Sinn Fein becomes Ireland's second-largest party

February 11, 2020

Ireland's republican Sinn Fein party delivered its best-ever performance ever in the general elections. The former IRA-linked party could play an important role in the next government.

Mary Lou McDonald celebrates
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Morrison

The Republic of Ireland's left-wing republican party Sinn Fein came second in the country's general election, gaining 37 of the 160 seats in Ireland's lower house, the Dail.

The final results declared on Tuesday also showed that Sinn Fein had won the popular vote, gaining 24.5% of first-preference votes in Ireland's single transferable vote system.This confirmed weekend exit poll predictions.

Center-right party Fianna Fail won 22.2% of the popular vote, but gained the most seats at 38. Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael party took 20.9% of the popular vote and took 35 seats.

The victory could see the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) — a terrorist organization in the UK and classified as illegal in the Republic — form a government in Ireland. 

During a period known as "The Troubles" the IRA and its various formations  carried out a campaign of violence to push its agenda of a united Ireland.

The hunt to form a coalition

With no party claiming an absolute majority, the hunt is now on to form a coalition to try and reach the 80 seats needed for a majority in the next parliament, set to begin on February 20.

"We want to talk to anyone who is interested in delivering a program for government," Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald told national broadcaster RTE, following the result.

"A government that people relate to, that is in tune with the realities of people's day-to-day lives, not one that is aloof and adrift from the experiences of citizens."

Sinn Fein has already begun talks with several smaller left-wing parties but forming a coalition government with the larger parties is set to be more difficult.

Prime Minister and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar acknowledged the shift to "a three-party system" on Sunday and said talks between the parties could be protracted and difficult.

Finn Gael repeated it would not go into coalition with Sinn Fein because of its past links with the IRA. Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin on Sunday declined to repeat his previous refusal to consider forming a coalition with Sinn Fein.

kmm/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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