Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael is still reeling Saturday’s Irish election, which saw them pick up just 20.9 percent of first preference votes in Ireland’s single transferable vote electoral system, and 35 seats in the 160-seat Dail, the country’s legislature. By contrast, resurgent Sinn Fein, the republican party with historical links to the IRA, picked up 24.5 percent of the vote, leapfrogging Fine Gael by picking up 37 seats – just one fewer than Fianna Fail. Ray Bassett, former Irish ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told Express.co.uk the result should deeply worry the EU.
He said: “The election result in the Republic of Ireland was a major surprise.
“The emergence of Sinn Fein as the largest political party in terms of the popular vote and the heavy losses suffered by the ruling Fine Gael party, and to a lesser extent the main Opposition Fianna Fail, was not foreseen by political commentators, even a few weeks ago.”
Mr Bassett stressed there were no guarantees Sinn Fein, led by Mary Lou McDonald, would manage to stitch together a coalition, despite her stated ambition to replace Mr Varadkar as the country’s leader.
If the party did manage to cobble together a pact, whether it was with minor parties or with Fianna Fail, it would be “the most radical change of Government since 1932 and the arrival of Eamon De Valera to power”, Mr Bassett said.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald
Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
The Sinn Fein victory will be very unwelcome in Brussels
He added: “The Sinn Fein victory will be very unwelcome in Brussels. Michel Barnier visited Ireland during the election campaign in a blatant move to bolster Brussels’ favourite Irish politician, Leo Varadkar.
“Barnier even clashed with the leader of the Opposition Micheal Martin, in support of Irish European Minister Helen McEntee.
“There was no doubt but that the EU establishment wanted a Varadkar victory.”
Their concerns spring from Sinn Fein’s traditional euroscepticism, which has in the past involved campaigns against the Maastricht, Nice and Lisbon Treaties.
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Michel Barnier pictured with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
He added: “In recent years, it has softened its attitude to EU membership and now describes itself as in favour of membership but eurocritical.”
And he pointed to language uncannily similar to that being deployed by UK eurosceptics in years gone by in the party’s election manifesto, which states: “Sinn Fein is fully committed to the EU. However, huge democratic deficits exist within its current structures.
“It is time to end the Brussels power grab, to rein in the Commission and return powers to the member states.”
In terms of Brexit, Mr Bassett, who said Sinn Fein was “the most hardline party in Ireland on the issue”, pointed to the party’s huge support in areas along the Irish border, where four of the five Westminster constituencies have Sinn Fein MPs – all of whom boycott the House of Commons.
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Micheal Martin has not ruled out working with Sinn Fein
The Irish border is a major concern for Sinn Fein
He added: “That position is mirrored on the southern side as Sinn Fein has emerged as the dominant political force locally in recent times.
“Hence Sinn Fein will oppose any re-establishment of controls on North South movements of goods or services.
“Varadkar was often perceived as putting the interests of Brussels before that of Ireland.
“He had once declared himself a Euro Federalist, hence the great support he has received from Juncker, Barnier etc.
Proposals for the Irish border
“Sinn Fein, because of its history and commitment to a united Ireland, could never compromise on the border and this is something which will greatly worry Barnier et al.”
Sinn Fein’s luke-warm attitude meant any Government headed up by the party would be “the least enthusiastic Irish administration for the “European Project” since accession in 1973.
Mr Bassett added: “Therefore, if the British Government want to lessen Dublin’s hostility to their Brexit plans, they need to satisfy any Sinn Fein administration that there is no question of interfering with the present frictionless operation of the Irish border.
Mary Lou McDonald’s Sinn Fein took almost a quarter of the vote
“In theory, Sinn Fein should be more sympathetic to British desires to regain its independence but there is a long historical legacy to overcome.
“The key to achieving that should be a joint commitment from Dublin and London to ensure a frictionless border.
“That would accommodate the single most important issue on Brexit for any Sinn Fein administration.”