Anyone’s guess as to what happens next

Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin lead the two biggest parties after Friday’s Irish general election but will they do a deal to form a new majority government? photo

By Ray O’Hanlon

A grand alliance between two rival parties that emerged from the ashes of Ireland’s civil war?

A caretaker government?

A longer serving minority government?

A mélange of parties and Independents TDs?

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Another general election?

Take your pick today as the results of Friday’s Irish general election near finalizing, and with this an emerging picture of an Irish political scene turned upside down and inside out.

A state of flux is how Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan put it.

As if to underline this view of things it is unclear at this juncture whether Mr. Flanagan should, or should not, not be described as an “outgoing” minister as he did retain his Dáil seat.

One who is, however, is Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan, a familiar figure on this side of the Atlantic.

Mr. Deenihan lost his Dáil seat in his Kerry constituency.

Mr. Flanagan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland show that it was clear that Fine Gael would be the largest party after all the counts were completed and that there was an obligation on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to work towards establishing a stable government.

Flanagan said that a broad spectrum of the Dáil would need to be examined to see if a stable government could be formed.

He refused to be drawn on whether Mr. Kenny would talk to Fianna Fáil but said talks would be held first with Labour, said the RTE report.

"It is clear that Fine Gael will be the largest party. We've got to sit down with our partners and assess where we are going on the basis of the options

"Firstly we will discuss the matter with the Labour Party out of courtesy. We need then to look across a broad spectrum of the Dáil and see where we can find opportunities to discuss the formation of a government," Flanagan said.

There will be a lot fewer Labour TDs to discuss future options with. The party suffered a shellacking at the hands of voters.

Fine Gael, too, took a hit despite retaining its position as largest party.

The big gainer was Fianna Fáil, which has come back from the political grave under the leadership of Micheál Martin.

Sinn Féin also polled strong and could end up with about 24 Dáil seats, a raise of ten seats over its pre-election total.

Wrote columnist Stephen Collins in the Irish Times today: “Irish politics is entering a new phase after a sensational general election result which turned much of conventional political wisdom on its head.

“The parties are all entering uncharted waters and the ultimate result could well be a rebalancing of the entire political system rather than the novelty of a grand coalition between the two Civil War parties.

“The big election winner was Fianna Fáil. The party has come back from the near-death experience of 2011 to more than double its number of seats and come within just one percentage point of Fine Gael in the share of the vote.

The big loser was the Labour Party, which was almost wiped out in the worst election performance in its history. Fine Gael had a deeply disappointing election, losing much more support than it had expected.

“Sinn Féin made gains but on nothing like the scale it had anticipated, while the Independents and most of the smaller parties made the gains the polls were forecasting.

All of this raises the question about how a government will be formed. During the election campaign the Coalition parties presented themselves as the only ones offering to form a stable government. After the election it seems that nobody wants to be in government except Fine Gael.”

Meanwhile, the new Dáil meets on March 10, which gives the newly elected parties and individual members little time to work something in advance of a vote for a new taoiseach that could well prove inconclusive.