Irish election count continues as coalition parties decimated


Counting has begun for a second day in Ireland's general election after an electoral bloodbath plunged support for establishment parties to a near record low.

With prospects for a new coalition government in deep disarray, weeks of protracted negotiations are on the cards after Taoiseach Enda Kenny ruled out resigning or re-running the poll.

His Fine Gael party suffered a hammer blow, losing in the region of 30 seats, while its Labour Party partner was humiliated by the prospect of retaining fewer than 10 seats.

The other stories of the vote are the revival of Fianna Fail, which led the country in economic collapse five years ago, and Sinn Fein, which has continued its steady growth in the Republic.

The fracturing of the traditional centre-right politics suggested widespread disaffection with the once dominant forces and austerity - a mirror of the voter schism which has crippled parliaments in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Many final results of the election will not be known until later on Sunday or Monday.

But predictions point to a remarkable electoral swing where the political powerhouses of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will struggle to secure support of 50% of popular support for the first time in history.

Mr Kenny said his party would remain a large bloc in the new Dail parliament despite throwing away the largest majority it had ever secured.

"I'd like to think that it could be possible, given the final results, to be able to put a government together that could work through the many challenges we have," he said.

The clearest majority would come from Fine Gael and Fianna Fail setting aside their historical rivalries, borne out of the civil war and cemented over the last 90-odd years.

In a remarkable comeback after its near wipe-out at the last election, Fianna Fail could almost double its seats.

But the once-dominant party in Irish politics will remain a long way from its heyday majority, which tumbled with the economic crash it presided over nearly a decade ago.

The mounting disillusionment with mainstream parties opened an unprecedented opportunity for smaller parties and independents to reap the rewards.

Sinn Fein will be the third largest party.

Under its president Gerry Adams, who topped the poll in Louth, the party looks set to continue its march south of the border with an expected increase in its vote and its presence in the Dail parliament by around 50%.

Among the decimated coalition's biggest casualties were Alex White, Labour's outgoing minister for communications, energy and natural resources, and Alan Shatter, the former Fine Gael justice minister, who were both defeated in Dublin Rathdown.

Labour leader Joan Burton said she was not resigning, but neither would she be in government.

Mark Mortell, the Taoiseach's closest adviser, said Ireland would have to review its "political system" once the outcome of its most uncertain election in recent times is decided.

"The only word I can use right now is deep disappointment," he said.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, both centre-right, have swapped power since the foundation of the state.

Such a "grand coalition" would also break new ground in potentially handing the Dail a definitive left-right split for the first time in history.

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.

Parties will have until March 10 - when the Dail is scheduled to resume - to forge a power-sharing deal.