Sinn Féin won the most first-preference votes in Saturday’s Irish general election, delivering a shock to the country’s political landscape after decades of domination by the centrist rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

However, the fragmented results will produce a hung parliament with no party close to 80 seats, meaning there could be weeks – possibly months – of negotiations between party leaders before a government is formed.

Whatever happens, Leo Varadkar the Fine Gael prime minister who broke the Brexit impasse in a summit with Boris Johnson in the Wirral in October, is unlikely to survive, forcing a new set of politicians on Downing Street and Brussels just as the critical next phase of Brexit talks begin.

Will Irish policies on Brexit change?

All three of the leading Irish parties are pro-EU, and whoever is in government will adhere to the Brexit deal and the Northern Irish protocol, which involves checks along the Irish border.

But Sinn Féin, more than any party, is advantaged by the Brexit deal because Northern Ireland remains a de facto member of the EU single market, pushing it into closer economic union with the republic.

Jonathan Tonge, professor of British and Irish politics at Liverpool University, said: “The more friction there is in terms of Northern Ireland trade, the better for Sinn Féin, although they won’t say that publicly.”

What about unionists in Northern Ireland?

A coalition involving Sinn Féin will spook unionists, who have already accused Johnson of betraying them in the Brexit deal. Such a coalition would “effect unionist insecurity”, said Etain Tannam, professor of international peace studies at Trinity College, Dublin.

What about Brussels?

Michel Barnier has met Mary Lou McDonald and her team on several occasions so Sinn Féin are not an unknown quantity. However, as a nationalist party with policies of the left, “they would face dilemmas given their own ideology in trade talks where they would be rubbing up against neoliberalism”, Tannam said.

Does this bring united Ireland closer?

No. Sinn Féin has said publicly it wants a border poll within five years but, as Tannam points out, that is not in their manifesto. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been loath to do anything explicit on the subject because of the sensitivity. Any such move would be considered an act of hostility towards unionists in Northern Ireland. “The department of foreign affairs, which has been very influential, would be against it,” Tannam said.

How will the result go down in the UK?

Sinn Féin, founded in 1905 before the establishment of the Irish state, has been politically active in Northern Ireland for decades but has refused to take its seats in Westminster.

However, when McDonald took over from Gerry Adams as president, the party redoubled efforts to gain influence in London, in politics and the media.

While Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have decades of dealing with the Conservative party, Sinn Féin does not, as its long term goal of a united Ireland would in effect break up the United Kingdom.

“Downing Street will not exactly be welcoming this result,” Tonge said.


Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sinn Féin declares victory in Irish general election
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald calls for talks with main rivals to form coalition

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

11, Feb, 2020 @3:22 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on Ireland’s election: a contest with consequences | Editorial
Editorial: The start of the American presidential race next month may seem more alluring. But the Irish general election is of more immediate importance for Britain


19, Jan, 2020 @6:25 PM

Article image
Irish deputy PM warns against 'reckless shouting' in Brexit war of words
Simon Coveney says ‘hard-won’ peace is only motivation to prioritise border in talks

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

08, Sep, 2018 @7:32 PM

Article image
Ireland election: polls open with Sinn Féin poised to play key role
Republican party is hoping poll surge will translate into a parliamentary breakthrough

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

08, Feb, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Irish PM denies having secret no-deal Brexit plan for border checks
Leo Varadkar accused by opposition of keeping plans for Irish border from public

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

16, Jan, 2019 @2:01 PM

Article image
Varadkar says Ireland is stepping up plans for no-deal Brexit
Theresa May due to visit Irish border, and Sinn Féin criticised for Commons abstentions

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

18, Jul, 2018 @9:45 AM

Article image
Varadkar resigns as Irish government enters stalemate
Taoiseach will continue as caretaker leader after inconclusive sitting of Dáil Éireann

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

20, Feb, 2020 @11:28 PM

Article image
Ireland's old political rivals hold talks over historic coalition
Coronavirus crisis spurs government formation talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

26, Mar, 2020 @5:16 PM

Article image
Sinn Féin begins efforts to form leftwing coalition in Ireland
Mary Lou McDonald will talk to Greens and others but pact with Fianna Fáil is also possible

Rory Carroll, Ireland correspondent

11, Feb, 2020 @9:47 AM

Article image
Varadkar prepares to go into opposition as deadlock continues
Irish parliament set to meet on Thursday despite no party having a majority

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

17, Feb, 2020 @10:37 PM