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Expect protracted talks to form a Government

Comment & Opinion

HIVE OF ACTIVITY The Count Centre at the TF Royal Theatre, Castlebar, will be busy from 9am on Sunday morning, when counting of the votes in the Mayo constituency gets underway.

AFTER the result of the 2016 General Election, it took 74 days for a Government to be formed – and there is every chance we could be spending many weeks in limbo after next Saturday’s General Election 2020 vote.
As it stands, recent opinion polls indicate that no party will go anywhere close to an overall majority, and Sinn Féin’s surge to towards the top of all those polls is certainly food for thought for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Despite Michéal Martin being steadfast in his view that Fianna Fáil will not do business with Sinn Féin, the reality is that the bookmakers certainly don’t believe him. A Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin coalition is currently favourite at 9/2 to be the make up of the next Government.  
It is clear that Fianna Fáil would rather go into coalition with the likes of the Greens and Independents, but both those groups would have to have very good elections to have enough seats to push that coalition over the magic number of 78.
A grand coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is the third favourite, at 7/1, but as we saw in 2016, both parties remain fearful that the public would react adversely to this in the long term, and it would be a huge risk given the current volatility of the electorate.
Sinn Féin supporters will be delighted with the fact that for the first time in the party’s history, they are the joint most-supported party, on 24 percent with Fianna Fáil. However, they will be wary of the Red C poll too, as they have been here before ahead of general elections in the south, and ultimately they ended up disappointed when the actual votes themselves were counted.
Their leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has certainly struck a chord with disenchanted voters, and her performances on televised debates have given her credibility a much-needed boost at an opportune time.
More importantly, it emerged yesterday afternoon (Monday) that RTÉ have now invited the Sinn Féin leader to be part of the Prime Time leader’s debate, which takes place tonight (Tuesday). This will be seen as a key victory for Sinn Féin, but both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will now see this as an opportunity to tackle McDonald on a number of contentious issues. The debate should be robust, to say the least.
Here in Mayo, a real battle seems to be developing for the final seat, with Sinn Féin’s Rose Conway-Walsh benefiting due to the obvious momentum behind her party’s campaign.
She is confident that she can take a seat, but she will also be wary that although that same confidence was there in 2016, she only came in with 6,414 first-preference votes, which never really gave her a chance to get into the race for that final seat.
She would need to increase that first-preference total by a third, and even with the momentum behind Sinn Féin, that is a big task.
Most commentators and bookmakers have Lisa Chambers following likely poll topper Michael Ring and her party colleague Dara Calleary back to Dáil Éireann, and it does seem likely that the absence of Enda Kenny in the county down should benefit her and, of course, Alan Dillon.
The former Mayo GAA star has had to wait a long time since he was chosen at convention to run for Fine Gael in Castlebar, but despite the perceived swing against the party on the national stage, he remains the favourite with both Paddy Power and Boyle Sports to take the final seat.
However, there is very little between himself and party colleague, Michelle Mulherin, and even a lot of the Fine Gael strategists are torn about who has the upper hand.
The high-profile Green candidate, Saoirse McHugh, will be hoping that Chambers, Conway-Walsh, Dillon and Mulherin and are in and around each other after the first count and that she can then get herself into the race for that final seat. It is a possibility, as she is likely to attract votes across the county, but she probably faces the stiffest task of those with chances of a seat.
Paul Lawless of Aontú and Joe Daly of People Before Profit are in the process of trying to grow support for their parties. In some ways, they will be encouraged by the surge in support for Sinn Féin, as it does show there is a real appetite for a change in the political establishment.
As we enter the last four days of campaigning, it really is all to play for here in Mayo and on the national stage, but one thing is for sure, the negotiations to form a Government once the votes are counted could well be as protracted as they were 2016.