Rival Irish parties strike deal to form coalition government

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin speaks to members of the media, outside the Government Buildings after Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Greens finalised the text of a draft programme for the government four months on from the election, in Dublin, Monday June 15, 2020. Martin is set to become Ireland's next premier. (Niall Carson/PA via AP)

LONDON – Ireland’s long-dominant rival political parties said Monday they have agreed on terms for a coalition government, four months after an election that shook the country’s political landscape.

The deal will see Fine Gael — the party of incumbent Prime Minister Leo Varadkar — and Fianna Fail led by Micheal Martin govern alongside the smaller Green Party.

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Under the proposal, which must be approved by the parties’ memberships, Martin will become taoiseach, or prime minister, national broadcaster RTE reported. He will serve until the end of 2022 and then hand the job back to Varadkar.

“It’s a good package overall. Now we need to make it happen,” said Varadkar, who admitted he didn’t know what Cabinet post he would get when Martin led the government.

The left-wing nationalist party Sinn Fein looks set to be shut out of the Irish government despite an electoral breakthrough that saw it win the largest share of the votes in February’s election.

The election result was a blow for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the centrist parties that have dominated Irish politics since the country won independence from Britain a century ago.

Fianna Fail holds 38 seats in the 160-seat Dail, parliament’s lower house. Sinn Fein has 37, Fine Gael has 35 and the Greens have 12 seats.

The parties have held protracted negotiations since February in an attempt to find a stable governing coalition, a process complicated by a nationwide lockdown imposed in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Sinn Fein was unable to assemble enough support to govern.

The two centrist parties have long shunned Sinn Fein because of its historic links to the Irish Republican Army and decades of violence in Northern Ireland. But Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are also bitter rivals whose roots lie in opposing sides of the civil war that followed Ireland’s independence from the United Kingdom, and they have never formed a government together.

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