Top 3 par­ties in dead heat af­ter Ir­ish par­lia­ment elec­tions

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - NATION | WORLD -

DUBLIN — Ire­land’s three big­gest po­lit­i­cal par­ties are likely to face a dif­fi­cult process of form­ing a new gov­ern­ment, with an exit poll sug­gest­ing they fin­ished in a vir­tual dead heat in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions Satur­day.

The sur­vey said the Fine Gael party of Prime Min­is­ter Leo Varad­kar, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein all got about 22 per­cent of first pref­er­ence votes.

The exit poll was based on 5,376 in­ter­views con­ducted im­me­di­ately af­ter peo­ple voted at 250 polling sta­tions. It has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 1 per­cent­age point.

Vote count­ing starts Sun­day, and it could be Mon­day be­fore the elec­tion’s re­sults are de­ter­mined.

With none of the three main par­ties likely to gain enough seats to gov­ern alone, a coali­tion of some kind was al­most in­evitable.

But Sinn Fein was in a slightly weaker po­si­tion than its two main ri­vals, be­cause it fielded only 42 can­di­dates for the 159 seats avail­able and might be un­able to find enough like­minded left-lean­ing al­lies to form a work­able gov­ern­ment. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail — the two par­ties that have dom­i­nated Ir­ish pol­i­tics since in­de­pen­dence — have shunned Sinn Fein be­cause of its links to the IRA.

While Sinn Fein is a ma­jor force in North­ern Ire­land, the United King­dom re­gion where it is part of the power-shar­ing gov­ern­ment that helped end decades of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, it has long been a mi­nor player south of the bor­der in the Ir­ish Repub­lic. But the party has at­tracted vot­ers with left-wing pro­pos­als for tack­ling Ire­land’s hous­ing cri­sis and bol­ster­ing the na­tion’s creak­ing health care sys­tem.

Sup­port for the tra­di­tion­ally dom­i­nant par­ties has fallen since the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, which hit Ire­land’s debt-fu­eled “Celtic Tiger” econ­omy par­tic­u­larly hard. Ire­land was pushed to the brink of bank­ruptcy and forced to seek a hu­mil­i­at­ing in­ter­na­tional bailout that was fol­lowed by years of aus­ter­ity.

“I do think there is need to change,” Noleen Kelly, who works in the pub­lic sec­tor, said out­side a Dublin polling sta­tion. “So, I’m look­ing for­ward to see some­thing pos­i­tive.”

Peter Mor­ri­son / As­so­ci­ated Press

A dog waits for his owner out­side the polls in Dublin as Ir­ish vot­ers choose their next prime min­is­ter.

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