RTÉ Political reporter Maggie Doyle examines five stumbling blocks that have delayed a government being formed.

RTÉ Political reporter Maggie Doyle examines five stumbling blocks that have delayed a government being formed: 
1.  An inconclusive result
It was on this day 17 weeks ago the people of Ireland headed to polling stations across the country.
That night, there’s no doubt that many of them were surprised watching the exit poll result when for the first time in the history of the State, three political parties were almost tied. 
The poll, by Ipsos/MRBI on behalf of RTÉ, The Irish Times, TG4 and UCD, suggested Fine Gael was on 22.4%, with Sinn Féin at 22.3% and Fianna Fáil on 22.2%. 
The Exit Poll Ipsos/MRBI on behalf of RTÉ, The Irish Times, TG4 and UCD
The actual result, when all the counts were finished, saw Sinn Féin outperform the poll to garner the most first-preference votes, with 24.5%, with Fianna Fáil in second place on 22.2% and Fine Gael on 20.9%. This left Fianna Fáil with 38 seats (including the automatic election of the Ceann Comhairle), and Sinn Féin with 37, while Fine Gael ended with 35 seats.
It was a historic result for Sinn Féin. The party had campaigned on the message ‘Time for Change’. It told the electorate it was time for an end to the country being led by the “old firm” parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
In her first general election as party leader, Mary Lou McDonald claimed hers was the biggest party, and that she was frustrated they had not fielded more candidates.
It was disappointing for Fianna Fáil, which hoped to get closer to 50 seats with Micheál Martin in the awkward position of potentially becoming the only Fianna Fáil leader not to become taoiseach. 
Fine Gael did not appear to gauge the public mood during the election and limped into third with Leo Varadkar stating quite quickly he expected to be the leader of the opposition.
2.  Let’s get together, or not
With such a close vote it was clear parties would have to come together in order to create a majority government, which would be at least 80 seats.
But there were a lot of “Noes” going on.  Fine Gael said a definite no to partnering with Sinn Féin throughout the election, likewise Fianna Fáil did, until the results came in. 
Then a slightly abashed looking Micheál Martin seemed to leave the door open saying it was “not the day for ruling-in or ruling-out”.
Sinn Féin quickly set about trying to form a left-leaning government, reaching out to the Labour, Social Democrats, Green and Solidarity/People Before Profit parties.
Talks in March and April led to a realisation that this sort of government would not have sufficient seats in the Dáil.
3.  Frenemies
The Oxford English Dictionary describes the term ‘frenemy’ as a “person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry”.
The old civil wars foes Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have always been on opposing sides in Leinster House.
But in mid-April it was clear the old hostilities were beginning to thaw when they released a joint document outlining how they would facilitate negotiations to form a coalition government.
It was historic but after two months it was clear to both parties something had to give in terms of getting on with putting people in charge of the country.
However, with only 72 seats between them, they needed to invite another partner or partners.
4.  Small parties, big issues
The Green Party had a very successful election, gaining 12 seats, up from three. Under the leadership of Eamon Ryan, it said it would speak to everyone about government formation.
However, it took a long time to get the party to the table.
Although it had the opportunity to analyse the framework document from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it took over two weeks, in which it sought clarification on some issues, before a vote from the party’s 12 TDs, two senators and two MEPs before it agreed to sit down and negotiate. 
There are some in the Green Party reluctant to enter into government with the two larger parties, with issues such as direct provision, climate tax, agricultural policies all causing unease.
Even the lead negotiator, Catherine Martin opposed the coalition talks and is now embroiled in a potential leadership contest, something some commentators suggest could be a distraction during government formation.
The Labour Party took a hit in the election, losing one seat. But in reality it never came close to the support it enjoyed in  2011 when it won 37 seats. 
It has had a history of being stung in previous coalition governments. In February in the days following the general election result the outgoing Labour leader Brendan Howlin said it was not the time for his party to be entering government.
The leadership contest was held and new leader Alan Kelly eventually said in mid-May his party would not enter into negotiation talks, saying negotiations with the Green Party should be given the time and space to reach a conclusion.
The Social Democrats did very well, tripling its number of TDs to six.  In the aftermath of the election, it spoke to Sinn Féin but realised the numbers were not there for a left-leaning government.
It spoke to Fianna Fáil and the party leaders Róisín Shorthall and Catherine Murphy said they had looked into the details of the joint framework document with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil but were ultimately disappointed with answers they received about how public services could be improved. 
In mid-May they ruled themselves out of government formation talks.
5.  The P-word
Finally a global pandemic cannot be dismissed as a major obstacle to getting a new government in place.
The Covid-19 crisis completely changed the way most of us live our lives and that included the activity in Leinster House.
It meant that meetings became more difficult, with limited people allowed to meet and the length of time to meet reduced to two hours. 
That is difficult when you are talking about serious issues that require a lot of debate, understanding and ultimate agreement.  But the pandemic has also now put the rush on government formation talks. 
Pressure on Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens Party to form an administration has increased as the public start to emerge from the lockdown blinking into the light of the summer sun. 
Serious decisions have been and are still being made by a caretaker government but after 17 weeks. 
Now people want to know who is going to be in government for the 33rd Dáil.