Top 3 parties in dead heat after Irish parliament elections
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.”
A dog waits for his owner outside the polls in Dublin as Irish voters choose their next prime minister.