Politics has changed, changed utterly

ON the face of things, nothing has changed in Kerry. Two Dáil seats for the Healy-Raes and one each for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

But, in reality, the political plates have moved - here in Kerry and throughout the country.

The astonishing rise in support for Sinn Féin, which saw Pa Daly taking an incredible 20% of the vote in Kerry - nationally the party was even higher at 24.5% - amounted to history unfolding in front of our eyes.

Ever since the financial collapse of 12 years ago and the loss of our economic sovereignty in 2010, there has been a growing weariness, mixed with anger and contempt, for successive governments arising from their failure to solve the crises in homelessness, housing and health, in particular.

First to feel the people’s wrath - and deservedly so - was Fianna Fáil. That party, clearly will never again command the sort of loyalty and support it previously took for granted.

Then it was Labour’s turn to be humiliated. Banished from office in 2016, the party has now been further reduced to just six TDs as a result of Saturday’s General Election. In Kerry, Labour didn’t even have a candidate to contest the election.

Now, because of their manifest failures in office over the last nine years - and because of their refusal to hear and understand the suffering being endured by so many people - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his incompetent colleagues in government, have now also paid a heavy price.

Sinn Féin has now emerged as the most popular party in the country - unthinkable even a few weeks ago when the party struggled to re-group after disastrous local and Presidential elections. However, in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s vote, Sinn Féin responded with policies on housing, homelessness and health in a manner that causes a seismic shift in Irish politics. From a state of desperation last year, Sinn Féin are now on the threshold of achieving power in this country.

However, talk of Sinn Féin being entitled to be included in the next government is way off the mark. The only people ‘entitled’ to a seat at Cabinet are those commanding the support of the greater number in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin has ended up with 37 out of 160 seats. Despite the support they received, that’s a long way from any entitlement to be part of the government of Ireland.

We don’t operate a power-sharing system in this State. Government positions are filled by those in charge of the Dáil - or, at least, by those having more votes in their favour than those opposed.

The only way Sinn Féin can expect to be in government is by reaching a deal with a sufficient number of other Deputies to vote them in.

That will require an agreed programme for government. And we should expect that to take some time to work out.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil seem to be in a huff right now - insisting that since Sinn Féin say they’ve won the election, they should get on with forming a government under their leadership.

That’s bad politics, self-serving in the extreme.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have a responsibility to form a government, either themselves with perhaps the Greens, or independently with Sinn Féin, subject to an agreed platform.

But, what they can’t do, is opt out.