EXPLAINER: We're Almost Certain To Have Another General Election In 2016 – Here's Why
Don't listen to the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil pundits – this is now very, very likely to happen
We're only into the early stages of the count, with no official results returned and only tallying information to work off.
But already, we're getting a very clear picture of where this is headed – and it's not looking good for the formation of a government. And while something will likely be cobbled together, early signs say that it's very unlikely to last.
The two biggest parties are going to fall short of a majority
It's looking like Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, even between them, won't react a majority.
So even if the previously unthinkable were to happen, and the two were to come together to form a coalition, they'd need support either from Independents or a smaller party like the Social Democrats.
That means a lot of voices, a lot of mutual promises, a lot of three-or-more-way deals and a lot of varying views to keep happy. That does not make for a stable state of affairs, to say the very least.
These two parties aren't exactly besties
It's often said that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's differences are rooted in the past rather than policy – and that's true. However, that doesn't mean it would be any easier for either party to swallow the prospect of sharing power.
This is particularly true for Fianna Fáil, and there would be a large cohort within its ranks who would oppose this with every fibre of their being (take a bow, Eamon Ó Cuív). It will be shaky from the start, and it won't get much better because...
... both parties are going to be around the same size
Give or take a few seats, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be in and around the same size – and that makes for a very difficult and blurred balance of power in a coalition.
The split after the last election was 76 Fine Gael TDs to 36 Labour TDs, giving FG a clear leadership of the arrangement with a 2:1 ratio. The two last Fianna Fáil-led coalitions, which were stable if nothing else, saw single-digit support from the junior parties.
And that means, so far, we have two old enemies vying for control in a coalition they don't even fully control between them. But it gets worse.
The majority would be very, very slim
When you draft in Independent TDs to support you in coalition, you don't bring in any more than you absolutely need – for the reasons outlined above. That means you invariably end up with a very slim majority, and that's fine to begin with.
But things happen. Resignations, deaths, defections, expulsions and lost by-elections lead to slimming margins, which is why the FG/Labour combined total was 112 after the 2011 election but was at just 99 when the Dáil was dissolved.
If any coalition needed a strong majority and a healthy margin, it's this one. And they won't have it.
And Enda has been badly damaged by this election
Fractious coalitions can work. The Government of 1948-51, made up of a broad spectrum of parties united by a dislike of Fianna Fáil, was held together by the skilled leadership of John A Costello – a 'compromise candidate' from Fine Gael, who enjoyed widespread support despite never actually leading his own party.
After a disastrous and gaffe-laden campaign, however, Enda Kenny will be in so such position – he will be seen as vulnerable by other coalition parties, and even by his own party members, and will be in no position to provide the strong leadership that Costello did.
But Micheál Martin has been hugely strengthened
He finished the last election with the most toxic brand in the country, he entered this election as the most endangered leader, but he's emerged with perhaps the greatest success story of all.
Micheál Martin is in a good position, and momentum on his side. This means he'll be looking across at the weakened Enda, and considering the path to a stronger Fianna Fáil-led government – which he and his party (and the public) will now see as a truly viable option.
Sinn Féin will only get stronger in opposition
And they know this; hence why they've already, at such an early stage, ruled out any prospect of entering into Government this time around.
If they know it, and we know it, Micheál Martin will know it... and the longer they're left on the opposition benches, the more their growth will continue, and the more they'll eat into Fianna Fáil's base. And so, time becomes of the essence...
So will Labour
Today's been utterly disastrous for the junior coalition partners, but do you think they're gone for good? Well, that's what we said about Fianna Fáil after the last election – and look at them today.
The opposition benches are a recharging dock for damaged parties, even when they're at their most toxic. The stronger they become, the more difficult it will become for Fianna Fáil to consolidate its resurgent growth.
So the right time to strike...
Comes down to Micheál Martin.
And while it wouldn't look good for him to pull out of Government and create instability for political gain, it will certainly mean that he will be more likely to let nature take its course – leave this very fragile house of cards to topple on its own merit, lay the blame on the door of the damaged Taoiseach, and reap the rewards.
If that happens more than 12 months from now, we'd be very, very surprised.