European election count under way in Ireland

Counting is under way across Ireland in the European election.

Results are widely expected to see a surge for the Green Party, as well as possible disappointment for Sinn Fein.

An exit poll has suggested the Green Party will top the poll in Dublin.

European Parliament election
European Parliament election

The increased support looks widespread, even accounting for a 4% margin of error, and could see an unexpected boost in Ireland’s two other constituencies, RTE said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the surge is “reflective of a green wave of thinking that’s happening all over the world”.

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar interpreted the Green surge as a signal from the electorate that they want the Government to “do more on climate action”.

European Parliament election
European Parliament election

But he added it has been a very good election for his own party.

“We have won the popular vote. And our vote is up in all three constituencies,” he told RTE.

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald has insisted her party still hopes to return four MEPs – three in the Republic of Ireland and one in Northern Ireland.

She said: “We are in the hunt still for four European seats, these are tight contests.

“We don’t have anything beyond the exit polls but I can say two things that we knew all along, that each of the contests will be very competitive and tight, and that we are still very much in the reckoning in all of those contests.”

Irish voters will elect 13 MEPs, however two will face an uncertain wait over when they can take their seats due to the Brexit delay.

The Republic will receive two of Britain’s 27 seats when it leaves the EU. They are being redistributed among 14 member states.

European Parliament election
European Parliament election

The UK is participating in the poll, with British MEPs set to attend the inaugural plenary session of the new parliament on July 2.

As a result, those elected in last place in Ireland’s Dublin and South constituencies must wait to see when they can take their seats.

Local council elections were also held across Ireland on Friday, and counting in those races is continuing on Sunday.

Meanwhile a landslide Yes vote to liberalise Ireland’s divorce laws was confirmed in the early hours of Sunday.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is now set to bring forward a Bill to amend Section 5 of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996 to reduce the minimum living apart period to two years during the previous three years.

Divorce referendum
Divorce referendum

The European election count for Ireland’s three constituencies – Dublin, South, and Midlands-North-West – started on Sunday morning at centres in Dublin, Cork and Castlebar, Co Mayo.

A Europe-wide embargo means the first results in the poll cannot be declared until 10pm.

If previous elections are a guide, counting is likely to continue into Monday.

The European and local government elections are the first electoral test for Ireland’s main parties since the inconclusive general election of 2016.

The result delivered a hung parliament and precipitated months of negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, two parties with a century-old enmity dating back to Ireland’s Civil War.

A historic accord emerged that saw Fianna Fail agree to support a minority Fine Gael-led government through a confidence and supply deal for three years.

The parties renewed that arrangement late last year, extending what has been dubbed an era of “new politics” until early 2020.

While Friday’s elections focused on European and council issues, the results will no doubt be interpreted as a public judgment on Fine Gael’s performance in government and how effectively Fianna Fail has managed the delicate balancing act of holding an administration to account while at the same time propping it up.