Irish election exit polls point to hammering for coalition


Exit polls in the Irish general election have shown the outgoing coalition government has taken a hammering.

With the counting of around two million votes to begin in a few hours, the ballot is set to throw up the most diverse Dail parliament since the foundation of the state more than 90 years ago.

The outgoing Fine Gael/Labour partnership suffered huge losses, the polls showed.

Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Independents, smaller parties and newcomers all made significant gains, according to the survey of people leaving polling stations by pollsters Ipsos MRBI for the Irish Times and by Behaviour and Attitudes for state broadcaster RTE.

The first showed Fine Gael on 26.1% of first preference votes; Labour on 7.8%; Fianna Fail on 22.9%; Sinn Fein on 14.9%; Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit on 3.6%; Greens on 3.5%; Social Democrats on 2.8%; Renua on 2.6%; and others on 16.1%.

RTE's showed Fine Gael on 24.8% of first preference votes; Labour on 7.1%; Fianna Fail on 21.1%; Sinn Fein on 16%; Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit on 4.7%; Greens on 3.6%; Social Democrats on 3.7%; Renua on 2.4%; Independents on 11%; and the formal Independent Alliance on 3%.

The results will ask serious questions of Fine Gael leader and outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny over how he blew such goodwill and a big majority after the party's best ever election result in 2011.

Labour leader and outgoing Tanaiste Joan Burton first has the massive hurdle of retaining her seat before questions will turn to her leadership and choices in government.

However, the figures come with a health warning, given Ireland's unusual and complex single transferable vote system.

It points to a hung parliament, with the voter schism threatening to blow apart a duopoly enjoyed for more than 80 years by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, which swapped power for generations.

There is also the prospect of a minority government taking power or a previously unthinkable coalition between the old civil war parties bringing the curtain down on decades of bitter rivalry in time for the 1916 Easter Rising centenary.

But seasoned commentators warn about the instability of such a scenario, not to mention it was adamantly ruled out by all of the senior figures in both parties during the lacklustre campaign.

Such a groundbreaking shift could also open the first definitive right/left divide in the Dail.

Another scenario is the possibility of a rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and some smaller parties but looking at the numbers it would involve a hotchpotch of members in order to reach the magic working majority of around 80 seats.

More than 550 candidates fought in 40 constituencies to become one of just 158 TDs - eight seats fewer than the 2011 election when Fine Gael and Labour took office promising a democratic revolution.

Once a clear picture emerges from the weekend counting of votes, the parties will have until March 10 - when the Dail is scheduled to resume - to forge a power-sharing deal.

The spectre of a second election will loom over any uncertainty.

As polling stations closed at 10pm on Friday, political parties were estimating around two thirds of the 3.3 million-strong electorate voted.