Counting resumes as Government tries to dampen general election speculation

Vote counting has resumed in Ireland, with the first winning candidates in the European election poll set to be declared.

While the counting process following Friday’s three elections may still take days to complete, the political ramifications of the results so far have raised major questions for the leaders of the main parties.

The Government coalition partners – Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Greens – will undoubtedly be at least considering the option of calling an earlier-than-expected general election after performing better than many pollsters had predicted.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Simon Harris has insisted he has no plans to bring forward the timetable for an election from spring 2025, but he is likely to face intensifying calls from party colleagues to go earlier.

European and local elections
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald apologised to party supporters after the disappointing results (Damien Storan/PA)

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, Ireland’s main opposition party, has already announced an internal review after a poor performance in the elections. Leader Mary Lou McDonald apologised for the results.

Some opinion polls last year saw Sinn Fein riding high on 30%-plus support among the electorate, but the party only attracted 12% of first preference votes in Friday’s local government elections.

While that was still up on its showing in the last local council poll in 2019, the result is well short of what party had hoped for.

Fianna Fail Finance Minister Michael McGrath said his party was “not getting carried away” with the election results in Ireland as he made clear he did not want an early general election.

Mr McGrath said Fianna Fail had defied predictions that it would haemorrhage seats and finish the local elections a distant third.

However, he stressed that a local poll was very different to a general election.

European and local elections
Finance Minister Michael McGrath speaks to assembled media at Cork City Hall in Cork during the count for the local election count (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“We’re not getting carried away for a moment,” he told RTE Radio One.

“We are not saying that this is a predictor of a general election. We want to improve on the number of seats we have in the next general election and there’s a lot of work left to do – but this does demonstrate that our vote is resilient.”

Mr McGrath said it was important for Ireland to not only have a budget before the next general election but also pass the legislation to enact it.

He suggested that timetable would work against holding an earlier poll.

“I still believe that the general election should be held in the first quarter of next year,” he said.

Fine Gael minister of state and Government chief whip Hildegard Naughton said the public was craving “stability” as she insisted an early general election was not on her party’s mind.

“That’s the strong message that we’re getting. So we really do have a lot of work to do in relation to this and elections are not on our mind,” she told RTE.

The TD for Galway West added: “We have a programme for government that we need to deliver, a huge amount has been delivered to date.

European and local elections
Fianna Fail European election candidate Barry Andrews topped the poll after Dublin’s first count (Damien Storan/PA)

“But a lot of this legislation does take time to get over the line and we have such an amount of bills to get through right up to mid-July and also when we are back in the Dail in September. So we really need to finish off that work.”

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane has said his party will be “match fit” for a general election whenever it was called.

He also insisted Ms McDonald remained the right person to lead the party into that poll.

Mr Cullinane said Sinn Fein was “humble” enough to acknowledge Friday’s elections had not delivered the results the party had wanted.

“We will learn, but also if this government or when this government calls the general election, we will meet them head-on on their failed records on so many issues, but, more importantly, on our positive vision on what we can do to deliver,” he told RTE.

He added: “People vote differently in a local and European election to a general election. We saw that before. It’s possible some of the Sinn Fein vote or some of those people who want change stayed at home in the local election. And we know that some of the people who possibly intended to vote for Sinn Fein voted for independents.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are set to battle it out for the most seats in the local poll as the counting reaches a conclusion, with both main coalition partners attracting around 23% of first preferences.

Counting in the European election began on Sunday and only one of the country’s three constituencies – Dublin – has completed its first count.

Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews, who topped the poll, and Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty are expected to secure two of the four seats in the Dublin constituency.

The outcome of the first count in Ireland South is expected on Monday, with Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher looking well placed.

“The public looked at others and rejected them resoundingly, both in terms of the very populist anti-migrant groupings on the right, but equally Sinn Fein as well in terms of their simplistic views to complex problems,” Mr Kelleher said.

The Midlands-North-West constituency is not anticipated to complete its first count until later in the day, as officials grapple with what is set to be a marathon process of whittling down the 27 candidates vying for five seats.

The third election last Friday saw voters in Limerick given the opportunity to select what will be Ireland’s first directly elected mayor.

Counting in the Limerick mayoral contest will begin on Monday, with tallies indicating that independent candidate John Moran is in the lead.