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Sinn Féin begins efforts to form leftwing coalition in Ireland | World news

Sinn Féin has started reaching out to other parties to try to form a coalition government after final election results confirmed its stunning breakthrough in Ireland’s general election.

Its leader, Mary Lou McDonald, is to start talks with the Greens and smaller leftwing parties in the coming days to explore a leftwing rainbow alliance, though parliamentary arithmetic means this is unlikely.

Sinn Féin took 37 seats in the 160-seat Dáil Éireann after winning 24.5% of the first-preference vote in Saturday’s election, almost doubling its share from 2016 after harnessing voter anger at homelessness, soaring rents and fraying public services.

Fianna Fáil, which fielded more candidates, emerged with the most seats after counting was completed early on Tuesday morning. Micheál Martin’s party finished with 38 seats but because the Fianna Fáil speaker was re-elected without contest, both parties are in effect on the same number.

If McDonald fails to create a coalition from an array of small parties and independent TDs (MPs) focus will turn to a possible pact between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.

The ruling Fine Gael party finished with 35 seats, which means it will probably go into opposition. Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach and party leader, faced a call from Paudie Coffey, a former Fine Gael TD and junior minister, to quit as party leader.

Simon Coveney, the party’s deputy leader, called the voters’ verdict “harsh” but backed Varadkar’s continued leadership. Another senior party figure, Paschal Donohoe, said Fine Gael could end up forming another government.

Sinn Féin’s victory in the popular vote gave it a mandate to try to lead a government. Fine Gael slid to 20.9% and Fianna Fáil slipped to 22.2%, widely perceived as punishment for having propped up Varadkar’s minority administration in a confidence-and-supply deal.

The Greens, independents and small leftwing parties accounted for the rest. Turnout was 62.9%, down from 65.2% in the 2016 election.

The fragmented results will produce a hung parliament with no party close to 80 seats – the number for a majority and stable government in the 160-seat chamber, which includes a speaker. Varadkar has ruled out a Fine Gael pact with Sinn Féin, citing its leftwing policies and past IRA links, and floated a centrist alliance with Fianna Fáil.

The former Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly said the party needed to “reflect and decide” on whether Varadkar should remain leader if it did not form the next government. He told RTÉ there were a “number of mistakes” in a campaign “fraught with own goals” including the controversy over a proposed and then cancelled Royal Irish Constabulary commemoration.

During the campaign, Martin said Fianna Fáil would not enter government with Fine Gael or Sinn Féin but since Sunday has sounded more flexible, suggesting either scenario could happen.

Dara Calleary, Fianna Fáil’s director of elections, told RTÉ his party would talk with Sinn Féin about a programme for government. “We will see what programme they put together. We certainly will engage with them, we are not going to refuse to talk to them.”

Brendan Howlin, the leader of the Labour party, which appeared on course to take about half a dozen seats, said any viable government would need two of the three big parties.

“Ultimately we either have to have Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together or Sinn Féin with one of those parties. That will happen in my judgment … I think that is the only stability that can be offered.” Another election would hurt Ireland, he said.

Bread and butter topics dominated the campaign, which virtually ignored the issues of Northern Ireland and Brexit, but Sinn Féin said it wished to promote its defining goal – a united Ireland – in any future government.

An exit poll found that 57% of people supported Sinn Féin’s desire to hold referendums on unity on both sides of the border in the next five years.

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