In Brief

Irish general election: Sinn Fein demands government role after topping first preference poll

Three parties almost level, with Sinn Fein gains representing a ‘realignment of Irish politics’

Sinn Fein will attempt to form government after surging to the highest vote share in a historic general election that looks set to reshape the country’s political landscape

Irish voters produced a near three-way tie, with the nationalist party narrowly coming out on top in a result that will make it hard for the country’s two major parties to govern without it.

With 96% of first-preference votes tallied yesterday, Sinn Fein had 24.1%, with Fianna Fail on 22.1%, Fine Gael on 22.1%, Greens on 7.4%, and other parties making up the rest.

The dramatic gains by the nationalist party shattered the century-long dominance of the two traditional ruling parties and represents a “realigning Irish politics” that “boost the party’s chance of joining the next government” says The Guardian.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called the election “in the hope of riding a wave of public approval over his defence of Ireland's interests in the first stage of the Brexit negotiations”, says Politico. “But any kudos was overshadowed by deep voter unhappiness over a housing shortage and public services and infrastructure that have not expanded to cope with a growing population and the strongest economic growth in the European Union”.

“From the tallies at count centres around the country, it seems clear a huge shift has taken place” agrees the BBC’s Chris Page.

Axios says Sinn Fein “is a powerful force in Northern Ireland, but has historically been a minor player in the Irish Republic — until this year, when its left-wing policies helped attract young and urban voters”.

The party, shunned by voters as the IRA’s political wing during the Troubles, capitalised on anger at soaring rents and homelessness but “also tapped voter frustration at hospital bed shortages, insurance costs, pension reform and a sense of being left behind by economic growth. The party’s agenda for Irish unification, and Northern Ireland in general, took a backseat in the campaign”, says the Guardian.

However, “the party’s decision to run only 42 candidates in the election looks at have backfired”, says The Daily Telegraph, with early polling indicates that in many constituencies where Sinn Fein ran one candidate it had enough votes to return two candidates.

Nevertheless Sinn Fein is still expected to return 30 MPs to the 160-seat Dail, meaning it will be “kingmakers in the formation of the new Irish government unless Fianna Fail and Fine Gael agree a grand coalition” say the Telegraph.

Negotiations to form a coalition government are likely to be “complex” says the Daily Mail, with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail previously stating they would not enter an agreement with Sinn Fein.

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