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Thursday, April 02, 2020

Explained: The implications of the Irish election result

The Sinn Fein, a left-wing nationalist party, delivered its best-ever performance in the national polls, upsetting the two dominant centre-right parties

Written by Om Marathe | Updated: February 13, 2020 12:39:24 pm
Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

On Saturday, election results in Ireland delivered a setback to Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party. The left-wing Sinn Fein surged ahead and won the popular vote.

Sinn Fein, which had long been ostracised for its links to the Irish Republican Army, was able to challenge both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail — the two centre-right parties that have ruled the country for 90 years.

The results upset Varadkar, who in 2017 made history by becoming Ireland’s first openly gay ‘Taoiseach’ or Prime Minister, as well as its youngest. He is also the first person of Indian origin to hold the post.

What do the Ireland election results mean?

The Sinn Fein, a left-wing nationalist party, delivered its best-ever performance in the national polls — getting 37 seats in the 160-member Dáil Éireann or lower house of parliament — but finished one seat behind Fianna Fail. Varadkar’s Fine Gael is in the third position with 35 seats.

Before this election, every Irish government has been led either by Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, both centre-right parties. Sunday’s polls marked a shift to “a three-party system,” according to Varadkar.

For Sinn Fein to form the government, it would have to work together either with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, analysts say.

The Sinn Fein was formerly the political wing of the IRA, an armed group that fought against British rule in Northern Ireland for decades in a conflict known as “The Troubles”, in which some 3,600 people were killed before a 1998 peace deal.

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In 1979, the group was blamed for the assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten, British India’s last viceroy, in a bomb attack. The IRA has been designated as a terrorist organisation in the UK and has also been outlawed in the Republic of Ireland.

Varadkar’s Fine Gael party has ruled out forming a coalition with Sinn Fein, citing policy differences and the latter’s past IRA links.

According to reports, Sinn Fein could join the government if it can reach an understanding with Fianna Fail, the largest party. If such an alliance does not work out, Ireland could be looking at another election.

Who is Varadkar?

A physician, Varadakar entered Ireland’s political scenario at age 22. He was elected to parliament at 27, and nine years later, he publicly came out as gay. He became Prime Minister in 2017.

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Varadkar’s father, a doctor by profession, traces his roots to Varad, a village having a population of nearly 3,500 in Sindhudurg district’s Malvan tehsil — around 550 km south of Mumbai. Varadkar’s mother, Miriam, was a nurse working in England in the 1970s. Varadkar’s parents married in England, moved to Dublin in Ireland.

Varadkar visited his ancestral village during a personal visit in December 2019.

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