Varadkar digs heels in as he BLOCKS grand coalition – but ‘relishes’ clinging on as leader

The outgoing Taoiseach’s (Irish PM) said he was opposed to his party – Fine Gael – forming a grand coalition with Fianna Fail amid continuing speculation over when the upcoming election will be held. And despite calls for him to step down as party after his devastating defeat, Leo Varadakar insisted he would relish the challenge of leading an opposition party, according to Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE.

He said Fine Gael, which recorded the second-worst result in its history, would only participate in the government at a last resort and “if we are needed”.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Martin Heydon, Chair of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, said: “The people have spoken. They have voted for change.

“Fine Gael is preparing for the opposition and I think the people will need a strong and effective opposition”.

He said his party will “consider” returning to Government “as a last resort if that’s what is needed”.

Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael was the elections biggest loser, winning only 35 seats having entered the campaign as the largest party on 47.

Fine Gael got just under 20.9 percent of the vote, trailing behind rivals Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein.

Mr Varadkar has previously said the responsibility is now on Sinn Fein to form a Government, having won the highest percentage of first-preference votes.

Sinn Fein has already held talks with the Greens and People Before Profit.

The outgoing Irish PM also ruled out any alliance with Sinn Fein, saying it was “not an option” as “nobody can be forced into a forced marriage or a forced coalition”.

He said: “It seems that we have now a three-party system and that’s going to make forming a government quite difficult.”

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Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has also told Sky News she wants to form a government without Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, the two big beast parties who have dominated Irish politics in recent decades.

She added: “The political establishment, including Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, are in a state of denial, they’re still not listening to what the people want.

Sinn Fein surged from the fringes of the country’s political scene to become a mainstream party after voters flocked to support the nationalists who want to reunite the island of Ireland.

Fine Gael’s number of seats in the Dail (Ireland’s parliament) fell from 47 to 35 in the election.

Fianna Fail won 38 seats ahead of Sinn Fein’s 37.

But because the Fianna Fail speaker’s seat was unchallenged, both parties essentially “won”.

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