Irish republican movement Sinn Fein eyes government after topping poll in shock election result

The radical leftist party has won the biggest share of the votes

DUBLIN, IRELAND - FEBRUARY 10: Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Fein greets supporters in Dublin City Centre on February 10, 2020 in Dublin, Ireland. Ireland has gone to the polls following Taoiseach Leo Varadkars decision to call a snap election. In the last general election, no party came close to a majority and it took 10 weeks of negotiations to form a government with Varadkars party Fine Gael eventually forming a coalition with Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein and their leader Mary Lou McDonald have made a late surge and could become the largest party according to the latest opinion polls. In order to win an outright majority and govern alone, parties need to win 80 seats - many political experts have predicted another hung parliament with exit polls showing the three main parties deadlocked. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Powered by automated translation

Jockeying for the right to form the next Irish government was in full swing Monday as nationalist party Sinn Fein secured the most votes in an election that has been described as “something of a revolution in the ballot box” by the party’s leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, have taken 24.5 per cent of the first preference votes, ahead of centre-right parties Fianna Fáil on 22 per cent and Fine Gael on 21 per cent.  While the party also had most declared seats in the 160 member parliament, ongoing counting could see one of its rivals emerge on top when the process is complete.

The result is a 10 per centage improvement from Sinn Fein’s showing in 2016 boosted by the party’s proposals to tackle social inequality rather than its central pledge to unite the country with Northern Ireland.

On Monday afternoon, almost two-thirds of the seats in the parliament had been filled, with Sinn Fein had taken 36, Fianna Fail 21 and Fine Gael, the party of the incumbent prime minister Leo Varadkar, 19.

No party will reach the 80 seats needed for a majority so a coalition government is expected to be formed.

Both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, who have governed Ireland since it won independence from the UK a century ago, ruled out forming a coalition with Sinn Fein before the election because of its links to terror.

Mr Varadkar said his party’s position was unchanged after the result.

But Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin did not repeat his party’s stance, although added that were “significant incompatibilities on policy”.

“I’m a democrat,” he told RTE. “I listen to the people. I respect the decision of the people.”

Sinn Fein’s leader Ms McDonald said she was exploring options to share a government with independents and smaller parties such as Labour and the Social Democrats.

The party is calling for a vote on Irish reunification within five years.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was “following the results of the Irish election carefully”.

“The close relationship between the UK and Ireland will continue regardless of the election result,” he said.