Left-wing Sinn Fein challenges major parties in Irish election

Elias Hubbard
February 9, 2020

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar is facing a hard battle to hang on to power, with recent polls putting his party in third place.

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll published this week showed Sinn Fein leading with 25 percent, followed by FIanna Fail at 23 percent and Fine Gael at 20 percent.

Ireland hopes to boost turnout by holding its first election on a Saturday.

While Sinn Fein is a major force in the United Kingdom region of Northern Ireland, where it is part of the power-sharing government that helped end decades of sectarian violence, it has always been a minor player south of the border in the Republic.

A total of 6,500 polling stations have been set up in 39 constituencies across the country, which will remain open for voters until 10:00 p.m. local time (2200 GMT) on Saturday night.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has condemned the actions of those who planned to blow up a ferry across the Irish Sea on Brexit Day.

Sinn Fein's polling performance has far surpassed the expectations of party strategists who, coming off the back of several disappointing elections, only fielded 42 candidates in the race for the Dail parliament's 160 seats.

That means even if Sinn Fein had a flawless day and won all 42 seats - an extremely unlikely outcome in itself - it would still end up well short of a majority.

No party is expected to reach the 80-seat threshold to enable it to govern on its own, with a coalition is nearly inevitable.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, both centre-right in outlook, have unequivocally ruled out any partnership with Sinn Fein, and for either to change position would represent a major U-turn.

"They want a change in representation and they want a change in government".

The current campaign was dominated by domestic problems, especially a growing homelessness crisis, house prices that have risen faster than incomes and a public health system that hasn't kept up with demand.

Surging support for Sinn Fein, which is committed to the reunification of Ireland, threatens the country's political equilibrium even though the party is unlikely to form the next government because both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail refuse to work with it.

Sinn Fein's links with the IRA, which disarmed after the 1998 peace accord in Northern Ireland, became an issue late in the election. His minority government has concluded a "trust and supply agreement" with arch-rival Fianna Fail, which gives it the votes it needs to decide on measures by topic.

Alexander Faw, 22, said: "I'm looking for a more left government of Ireland".

Polls have closed in Ireland's general election and with no party securing enough seats to lead a government, confusion abounds as voters wait to see which parties will agree to do business with each other to form a coalition.

Since 2016, Fianna Fail have propped up Fine Gael in office by supporting them on a vote by vote basis, which could implicate them in the perceived failings of the government.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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