Irish Lawmakers Begin Search For PM After Sinn Fein Surge

Peter Flanagan
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Irish Leaders to Quicken Coalition Talks as Virus Spreads

(Bloomberg) -- Ireland’s parliament met on Thursday to try to choose a prime minister, the first step in what’s likely to be prolonged search for a new government.

Lawmakers returned to the Dublin parliament for the first time since the populist nationalist Sinn Fein upended the nation’s traditional power structure in the Feb. 8 general election. With no party winning anywhere near the 80 seats needed for a majority, a new premier is unlikely to be chosen on Thursday, as none of the three nominated candidates have yet managed to muster enough support.

The vote will take place around 5 p.m. in Dublin.

Current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald are vying for the role, with Varadkar’s administration set to remain in place as coalition talks intensify in coming weeks.

“The vote will sharpen minds to try to get a government formed in the weeks ahead,” Gary Murphy, a politics lecturer at Dublin City University, said in an interview. “Mary Lou McDonald may get the most votes, but she will still face a mammoth task to get to a majority.”

Fianna Fail won the most seats, with 38. Parliament today re-elected the party’s Sean O Fearghail to continue as speaker.

Sinn Fein came second with 37, while Varadkar’s Fine Gael won 35. Coalition talks will begin in earnest after Thursday’s vote -- in 2016, it took nearly three months to form a government after the election.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have pledged not to go into government with Sinn Fein, and a so-called grand coalition of those traditional rivals plus the Green Party remains the most likely government, according to betting odds.

Still, Varadkar said on Monday he was preparing to go into opposition, adding he would only seek a coalition with Fianna Fail as “a last resort.” McDonald is trying to put together a left-wing government, even though the parliamentary arithmetic was “tricky.”

“The overwhelming majority of people voted for change, they voted for a new government and that is what they expect to be delivered,” McDonald said on Thursday.

While Varadkar’s minority administration is propped up by Fianna Fail under a confidence and supply agreement, a similar scenario is unlikely this time, according to Murphy.

“It’s coalition or bust really,” he said.

(Adds speaker’s election in sixth paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Flanagan in Dublin at pflanagan23@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ambereen Choudhury at achoudhury@bloomberg.net, Dara Doyle

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