Ireland's Sinn Fein party surged in the country's general elections over the weekend. The left-wing party's candidates vastly outpaced expectations by winning about 24.5% of the first-preference votes to fill the 160 seats of the Dáil, or Parliament.
The outsider party -that has long prioritised reunification of the Irish Republic with the neighbouring U.K. nation of Northern Ireland-stunned the establishment by beating the Republic's two main political parties, the centre-right Fianna Fail and Fine Gae who have led every government in the country’s history.
The Dáil is set to reconvene on Thursday 20 February, but the formation of a new government could take weeks or months with coalition talks expected to be protracted and difficult.
Both Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar, who has been Ireland's prime minister, or taoiseach told voters during the campaign that they would not govern with Sinn Fein, a party perhaps best known for its historical links with the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
The last general election in 2016 also ended with no clear winner, and it took a record-breaking 10 weeks of talks to form a new government.
Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald told the media: "I think it would be a mighty thing to have a Sinn Féin Taoiseach and also a woman perhaps in the job but you might say 'she would say that wouldn't she?' "We want to talk to anyone who is interested in delivering a programme for government," she said later. "A government that people relate to, that is in tune with the realities of people's day-to-day lives, not one that is aloof and adrift from the experiences of citizens."
S&P analsyts said in a note that a further election cannot be ruled out though, “at this stage, the outcome of the Feb. 8 election has no immediate effect on our (AA-/Stable) sovereign credit ratings.”
“The unprecedented fragmentation of Ireland’s popular vote may shift its policy settings, including toward a more relaxed budgetary stance, despite still-high public debt,” it added.
With reporting by Raidió Teilifís Éireann and Reuters